Tequilero Germán Gonzalez of Tears of Llorona: “A good business is a kind of engineering value”

It sounds corny but being a thought leader is very much about friendships and mutual loyalties. You can’t succeed on your own. Finally, I would say you should try hard to ignore traditional categories. Categories just keep people doing the same things over and over, with only small improvements. As part of our series about […]

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It sounds corny but being a thought leader is very much about friendships and mutual loyalties. You can’t succeed on your own. Finally, I would say you should try hard to ignore traditional categories. Categories just keep people doing the same things over and over, with only small improvements.

As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Germán Gonzalez.

Germán, one of the most celebrated working tequileros, was born in Mexico City with strong spirits running through his veins. Germán’s father, Guillermo Gonzalez Diaz Lombardo, was the creator of Chinaco, the first Mexican craft 100% blue agave tequila imported to America. Enthralled with the family craft, he began working at his family’s agave farm and Chinaco distillery, which he ended up managing. After his father’s passing in 1996, Germán moved to San Antonio, Texas in effort to better understand American tequila culture. Soon after, he developed his first signature brand, T1 Tequila Uno, which was named Best Craft Tequila of 2016 by USA Today People’s Choice. In 2012, Germán shared a secret with a close group of friends: a special family reserve, a small-batch, artisanal expression boasting a rich and complex flavor profile due to its intensive and fascinating production process. These friends encouraged Germán to release a limited supply for others’ enjoyment. Germán named the tequila Tears of Llorona after the legendary ghost story told to him by his father and began distributing to select U.S. markets in 2014. Today, spirit aficionados and critics recognize Tears of Llorona as a masterpiece and a true expression of Germán’s genius.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was very fortunate to be the son of an important leader, Guillermo Gonzalez Diaz. He founded the Agricultural and Livestock Insurance company in Mexico, which created great opportunities and benefits throughout the Mexican countryside. He also made it possible for the production of tequila to be protected by the NOM (Mexican Norm) in a new geographical area in the state of Tamaulipas. He personally created Chinaco, a tequila that changed the way the category was appreciated around the world, benefiting an entire industry and its workforce.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started Tears of Llorona?

Tears of Llorona started as an experiment. I didn’t set out to make “the world’s best tequila.” There are many great tequilas that I respect and enjoy, all different, all interesting in their own ways.

I wanted to see if I could take tequila to a higher level. Using my father’s proprietary techniques along with my own, I wanted to craft a tequila that had a complex sequence of flavors, one to stand along with distilled spirits like great single malt scotches and intricate “fine champagne” cognacs. Most of all, I was trying to make a spirit that could change the opinions of whiskey drinkers about what tequilas could be.

It’s an unusually expensive process. I had to find very mature agaves grown at higher altitudes on a specific kind of soil to get the core I wanted for distillation. I needed to use different oak barrels that had been used before with scotch, sherry, and brandies in order to get from the wood the spirts (soul) and mix of flavors I wanted. I bottled at a higher alcohol content to get the right balance and allow the flavors to be revealed on your palate in a sequence as the alcohol evaporates. All the while, I thought about never losing the taste of the agave, the green that pops up all the flavors. I love the agave.

There was more to it of course. But when friends urged me to bring Tears of Llorona to market, well, that meant it was going to be at a price of the best craft scotches, small batch bourbons, and very old rums. I never thought it would be realistic. It seems to be working. That was a surprise. A good one.

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?

I made many mistakes, but you need to make mistakes to make something new and different. I don’t know that any of them were particularly funny, they just went down the drain.

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?

Being a thought leader means that when you explore new ground, you do it in a way that creates opportunities for others too. I’ve always been transparent about my ideas. It goes back to my father’s influence — over great opposition, he persuaded the Mexican government to include the superb agaves grown in Tamaulipas to be used in making tequila, opening opportunities for a whole Mexican region and people.

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?

There’s a time and place for sharing, just as there’s a time and place for confidence. It seems to me a matter of how and where you can influence the most good for the most number of people. That sounds simple but putting it into action becomes very complex and difficult. Finding the balance between individual needs and group needs in a world that is more connected than ever before is something of an art and sometimes painful. I hope I’ve been doing it well. We all need to do that well.

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?

A good business is a kind of engineering value. For me, I saw a higher place for tequilas where very few people thought they could belong. When a business creates and exchanges value that people really like, it adds to the pleasure of life and also creates value for the people who first believed in it. That’s when it works. It doesn’t always work of course, but you keep at it, learn from your mistakes, and improve your business and its effect on others.

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.

I see this in simple terms. Take your ideas to places that benefit others as well as yourself. It makes your ideas bigger and more valuable. You are doing all that work, why not think about it as expansively? I think the reason people don’t do this is that they fear they will be copied. So what? Be happy, you are a leader.

It sounds corny but being a thought leader is very much about friendships and mutual loyalties. You can’t succeed on your own. Finally, I would say you should try hard to ignore traditional categories. Categories just keep people doing the same things over and over, with only small improvements.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who 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.

Steve Jobs. He knew that technology was more useful and universal if applied as an extension of human instincts.

Elon Musk. He’s refuses to accept reasonable limits to ideas.

Nelson Mandela. He was able to unify millions in place of distrust, hatred, and fears.

My father. He flew over the affected area of Tamaulipas after a hurricane and saw how the wild agaves were still thriving, thus a new region for the blue agave was created.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is you’re feeling about this?

There is nothing wrong with being “overused” when you are accomplishing good. These criticisms come from a misunderstanding of value and from a need to be individual, even if it causes harm.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

We all have a tendency to change our stories and forget about mistakes we had to endure and learn from. We need to remember that our successes involved failure along the way. Humility and fearlessness fuel persistence.

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. 🙂

I do not think of myself as being influential except in the field of distilling, but I would say that this year has taught us all to enjoy the things around us and to taste life. There should be a new movement of appreciation.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A good life lesson quote is when your children say, “We’re happy to have you home, Papa.”

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. 🙂

What Robert Mondavi did for the wines of California as a thought leader is something that has always inspired me. I believe Señor Mondavi has passed on, so no lunch there.

The Van Winkle family, Julian and Preston, and what they have accomplished for their grandfather’s bourbon has been a source of great encouragement for me. They have been very generous friends at a distance. Lunch with them would be very good, I would buy.

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