Be authentic: identify what matters to you: Authenticity is key. You’ll be most effective as a thought leader if you are sharing your own authentic voice and perspective based on actual experience. When I was younger, I thought I needed to emulate others. It wasn’t until I was able to get comfortable with sharing some personal details and anecdotes that I was fully able to connect with others and make an impact. Be 100% you: what is your unique take and perspective based on your own experience/history, observations, knowledge? Choose topics and platforms which reflect your passions and are supported by your activities and experience. While sharing personal details can be scary, being vulnerable allows more people to feel connected.
As a part of our series about How to Become a Thought Leader, I had the pleasure to interview Amy Hoopes. Amy is the President of Wente Family Estates, the longest continuously operated family-owned winery in the country, celebrating its 135th-anniversary last year. A 22-year veteran of the wine industry — and one of its leading women — Amy is a respected visionary, heading a long-term brand-driven strategy with the ultimate goal of positioning Wente Family Estates as the most respected family-owned winery in the world. With the topic of balance and well-being top-of-mind, Amy launched an award-winning program for the company in 2018 called “Make Time” — implementing programming and support resources for employees enabling them to better make time for their families, their own self-care and their lives away from work. In addition to encouraging a corporate culture of wellness, Amy is a strong mentor and advocate women in her company, and the industry and business community at large.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Thank you for the opportunity! I’m a native of Pennsylvania, where I stayed through college, graduating from the University of Pennsylvania. The wine industry wasn’t really on my radar at that time in my life, but I was recruited directly out of college by the E&J Gallo Winery, where I started out at the bottom as a sales rep and worked my way up toward marketing management. My work led me out to Northern California to the heart of the wine country. I was with E&J Gallo Winery for a decade before I was recruited by another leader in the wine industry, Wente Family Estates, where I am now President. I’ve really valued working for family-run companies. Maybe it comes from being one of five children — I love the dynamic culture and having the opportunity to work with generations of leadership. And wine is a wonderful product to work with. Wine, food, and hospitality connect people over moments and occasions — experiences that truly bring joy. It’s a pleasure to be part of that! Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my family and doing the things I love — being outdoors and active, cooking, traveling, meeting new people and volunteering.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
Perhaps “authority on thought leadership” isn’t quite the phrasing I’d use. I think I have a lot to offer. I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my career, have listened closely, have raised my hand and am a natural problem solver and challenger of the status quo. We’re in a crucial and powerful time of opportunity — for change, pivoting, engagement — from both a micro and macro level. I’ve helped lead some significant shifts in our internal corporate climate around wellness and well-being; I have been an outspoken advocate for women in our company and industry — and supporter of men in becoming more effective mentors to women, and I’ve been deeply involved in social impact initiatives within our corporate community and initiatives outside of my industry.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
That’s a challenge, indeed! My career has been full of interesting stories. I work in a fascinating industry and have worked for two of the most respected wineries in the world. I tend to gauge experiences and stories by the lessons learned and opportunities for growth. One situation that still stands out for me is one which reinforced an important lesson in my career — and life, really: control the “controllable”. You’ll never be able to control how others act and react, but you can make your own choices.
I was a district manager in Chicago, preparing for the holiday season, the most important quarter in our industry. I was preparing for a market survey, where the sales executives from the winery come into our market to see how our products were positioned. I was nervous and excited to show them how successful our team had been. I was covering an open sales territory and had secured a huge 300-case lobby display at a top retail account: prime and very competitive real estate in our business. I went to a craft store and designed a display with vines, festive holiday greens — the works. It was gorgeous! I had personally reviewed the space numerous times before the planned visit. When the survey day arrived, I took the team of executives to the store to show them the display — and it was gone. There was nothing but empty, open space. 300 cases gone, along with the hard work and time put in. No one seemed to have information as to what had happened. First, my heart sank, but then I squared my shoulders and confidently marched the group to the back of the store and into the back stock room, where I found my entire display shrink-wrapped on pallets and up in the rafters. I finally learned that a competitive rep had told the buyer that I had given another retailer a better price. It took a long time to recover that relationship, but I did. And I learned that curveballs happen — in fact, expect them and learn to field them with as much grace and flexibility as you can. Be prepared for change and for those situations you can’t control!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Ah, mistakes! The word “mistake” can carry such a negative connotation. In the course of my career, I’ve chosen to focus on the positive outcomes of situations — including mistakes — and have adopted the motto “We don’t lose, we only win or we learn”. This perspective reminds me that mistakes are a natural part of the learning process, and they can often lead us to a better outcome than we originally envisioned. That said, I know that there are many funny stories about the early days of my career — whether being overly candid (occasionally with foot in mouth), being perhaps overly eager to never be late to anything and often, therefore, being painfully early (I grew up with a dad with a military background). One of the most important lessons from any and all mistakes is that humor is paramount for me, my team and family — and having the levity to recognize the humor in our missteps and daily hurdles is incredibly healthy.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
Thought leaders and leaders are not necessarily mutually exclusive — there are people who are both. But, generally speaking, a thought leader is beyond an “information person” and has a keen understanding of the deeper dynamics of the environment. They are forward-thinking and have an innate ability to challenge the status quo and get people to think critically about a topic.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
I believe one of the greatest benefits of being a thought leader in the impact one can have — on community, industry, and society. In my opinion, this goes hand in hand with social impact and leading with purpose. As a thought leader, you have the opportunity, and responsibility, to truly encourage and inspire people to think more deeply, more expansively. As a thought leader, you will be constantly learning, growing and evolving. All of these qualities will enhance not only your career but also your relationships, both professional and personal.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
When effective, thought leaders provide inspiration and provocative insights into how business can be done differently. As we’ve all heard before, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. So, when a business is looking to change the game — outpace the growth of an industry, be a disrupter, capture the upside — it’s important to engage in a process, or with a person, that will help challenge the status quo. This is where thought leadership comes into play. Thought leaders will ask the difficult questions; they will create a visionary framework that can stretch the team to develop a new path forward for their business. They will help that business — or the entire industry — stand out and grow.
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
- “Be authentic: identify what matters to you”: Authenticity is key. You’ll be most effective as a thought leader if you are sharing your own authentic voice and perspective based on actual experience. When I was younger, I thought I needed to emulate others. It wasn’t until I was able to get comfortable with sharing some personal details and anecdotes that I was fully able to connect with others and make an impact. Be 100% you: what is your unique take and perspective based on your own experience/history, observations, knowledge? Choose topics and platforms which reflect your passions and are supported by your activities and experience. While sharing personal details can be scary, being vulnerable allows more people to feel connected.
- Invest in yourself: make a plan and make time to put it into action: Once you connect with the areas meaningful to you and where you want to focus, create an action plan and start moving toward your end game and goals. Keep in mind that thought leadership involves visibility. If the idea of speaking/presenting publicly strikes fear into your heart, say yes when invited to speak. The more I speak the more comfortable I become. To ease some stress, you can get involved in speaking groups (such as Toastmasters or other recognized professional groups) which will provide you with the tools to deliver well.
- Raise your hand and share your voice: Build your reputation and credibility as a “go-to” resource for your key topics — within your own company, industry and then beyond. Get out from behind your desk/own company: attend industry events, cross-industry task forces. Be an agent of change, progress, and growth.
- Ask for help and share your vision: A friend once told me, you will never amount to anything more than those with whom you surround yourself. In my younger years, I was afraid to ask for help, as I was trained to believe it was a sign of weakness, but as I’ve gotten more mature (both in age and in wisdom), I realize the important role that it plays in personal growth and development. It’s a two-way street, where you can both get help and share your vision. Putting it out into the world enables others to help you make the connections you need to successfully implement that vision. Tap into your network. Identify and leverage mentors and thought leaders you respect to help guide you in your growth and in achieving your goals. Communicate with your superiors and advisors your desire to grow and build out your own expertise and contributions. Take advantage of offered resources through your company and industry — including leadership training, ongoing education, events and programs in which to participate.
- Listen and ask questions: Thought leadership involves not just leading, but encouraging others to think differently and critically. With that in mind, speaking and sharing is one part of the equation, but listening to others, absorbing information, learning how to ask the right questions to really understand people’s thinking are crucial skills for a thought leader. These are skills that I am constantly working to hone. Early in our careers, we are rewarded for always having the answers. As we progress, we are rewarded by the ability to inspire others to find the answers and think in new ways.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
Acclaimed author Malcom Gladwell comes to mind. He is masterful in the way he looks at human behavior, collects data and synthesizes it in a way that forces you to think differently. He does it with ease and makes the information both approachable and thought-provoking. I think this is such an important gift as a thought leader — to inspire and encourage different ways of looking at situations and challenges while remaining approachable.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
It’s true that the term appears to be well used today and the thought leadership stage is a fairly crowded one. But I’m not sure that is a negative thing — or that the term should be avoided. We need thought leaders and inspirers: the leaders confident enough to state a view that may be contrary to the status quo. They stretch us to think differently. They push people to be uncomfortable and then think about the deeper drivers behind the issues. Whether you call it thought leadership, or “rebel rouser”, the value of this voice is really a reflection of the value behind the diversity of thought. Having a diverse group of people at the table continues to stretch our thinking — and allows for the best thinking to come forward.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
So many of us struggle with the idea of achieving work-life balance — and too many people are teetering on the edge of burnout. My answer — and something I have really been focused on in my career and life — is don’t try to do and be everything: choose just a few key areas to focus on daily. Being in control of time and actively making decisions about how to focus that time daily including, importantly, making time for loved ones and activities that bring you joy — will support leaders to thrive and avoid burnout. I was overjoyed when I recently read Pick Three: You Can Have It All (Just Not Every Day by award-winning author, tech media authority and entrepreneur, Randi Zuckerberg. She not only articulated the sentiment I share that work-life balance is a farce, but also offered up a simple way for everyone (entrepreneurs, execs, civic leaders) to think about how to make those important daily choices, and then reflect on them to ensure that you do have some type of balance overall. At Wente Family Estates, we launched a groundbreaking program called #MakeTime to help all of our employees (including our leaders) to thrive by encouraging them to take additional paid time off to pursue hobbies, volunteer efforts and spend more time with loved ones. You need to prioritize that time! (If you’d like to take a look at the program, click here) We were excited that the New York Times wrote about our program earlier this year.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Gratitude and having an “attitude of gratitude” is often on my mind.It’s something that I try to tap into constantly — with my team, colleagues, family.No effective leader operates in a silo but is surrounded by a community of colleagues, partners, and advisors without whom they wouldn’t be impactful. I’m incredibly grateful for the investment others to have made in me and my own growth and leadership journey. A movement of appreciation and gratitude would certainly shift energy on a massive scale and benefit many!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you can’t carry it, you can’t bring it.” As the middle child of five girls, this is something that my dad taught us at a young age. This lesson has resonated for me from the first time I heard it during a family trip to Disney World at the age of 6. At first, it was the practical impact. I was only able to pack one small bag for the week, as that was all I could drag into the airport. As a result, today with all my work travel, I am still a “carry on” bag only traveler. However, this life lesson has also extended into other areas. In a more philosophical way, it reminds me that I need to prioritize my time and that it’s not only acceptable to say NO, but it’s imperative. I can only carry so much, and now I am more thoughtful about how much I take on. Of particular relevance to thought leadership, I also love “continue to listen… when you stop talking and start listening, you learn more”.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Just one is a tough call. I do hope to have lunch with Arianna Huffington one day soon — I have such tremendous respect for her work and am a huge fan! I would also add Randi Zuckerberg. In recent years, her work and topics of conversation have been making an impact on both me and my husband, and I’d just like to have the opportunity to say thank you!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Wente Vineyards: https://wentevineyards.com; Twitter & IG: @Wente
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.
Thank you again for the opportunity!