published in Wine Times

February 2010

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Being true to tradition means constant improvement – the Turul philosophy

Being a founder of a successful company is always easier than maintaining the growth and revitalising a business, under the strict scrutiny of ancestors, even if that close surveillance is only imaginary. For Bob Turul, however, continuing a family venture has never been a hard task. As Bob states, he has been lucky enough to be naturally aligned both to family values and to the principles his father defined when he founded Turul Winery in the first part of the twentieth century…

W.T.: To be more specific, what principles have determined your attitude as the owner and CEO of Turul Winery over the past 40 years?
B.T.: I value, and have always valued hard work, dedication to quality, optimism, loyalty, and honesty. At the top of my list is the welfare of my family, staff, and community. I believe we have to run a business that is both humane and profitable. The concept of sustainable farming just makes sense for our family business. Everything we do comes from the forethought that we want the Winery to be around for generations to come. There’s no reason for short-term gains at the expense of the future.

W.T.: How important is a sense of humor for leaders?
B.T.: I think I have a sense of humor. I consider that an indispensable quality in managers – leaders have to learn to laugh at themselves.

W.T.: What are your primary concerns, pressures, or problems – if any?
B.T.: I have certain concerns I must deal with; running a business is impossible otherwise. Right now my biggest concern is that I have to find an experienced and trustworthy general manager, someone with whom all the staff can cooperate well. The staff turnover has reached a level that I believe is unhealthy in this kind of business… I take the issue of turnover seriously primarily because we are all a family in the greater sense, and if a member of the family leaves us, they will be missed enormously because they are so difficult to replace.

W.T.: What really does make your winery tick? What is its core competency that makes it stand out from the rest?
B.T.: We have a wonderful terroir, micro-climate, and know-how which enable us to produce estate-grown Zinfandel, Riesling, Muscatel, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah – a really varied portfolio on a relatively small stretch of land. Our reputation is founded on late harvest dessert wines, which few vineyards successfully produce. I must stress that our dedicated employees are the key to our success. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

W.T.: What do you expect from the next generation? Do you intend to keep managerial control?
B.T.: I don’t think there is a single way of successfully handling a business. I’m not blindfolded by our financial success, and feel the urge to change. Not because times are always changing, no… The utmost reason is, after all these years I am less energetic than the big boss of a winery should be. It doesn’t bother me, though. I enjoy my age and experience, and am proud of our wines, and the whole Turul history. But turning back to the present state of the Winery, a shift in the general manager’s position will have a tremendous effect on the whole operation. We are in a transitional state now. We need to re-discover our true identity, and re-affirm our mission and vision in new ways. Many old-timers are nostalgic for the good old days, when the company wasn’t terribly profitable or well-known but was one happy family striving for a commonly-shared vision of excellence. Yet I hope that the staff will also realize that there is no going back. Rather, they need someone to show them the way forward. I am positive that old values and a new organizational structure can balance perfectly if we all want to achieve a target that requires common effort, one that will benefit both newcomers and seasoned staff. Continuing to compete for the “Spirit of the Wine” award is a goal worth pursuing for us. It is a public validation of our team’s dedication and loyalty.

W.T.: What makes a good top manager? What are the potential qualities that you are looking for in the Turul Winery General Manager?
B.T.: A good leader is someone who asks good questions. I need an unselfish person with people skills. An optimistic, positive attitude and humane values are important. I need, we all need, someone who is an active listener and possesses the desire for constant self-improvement in both himself or herself and all subordinates.

W.T.: How can you put all that into a work contract? Could any candidate live up to such high expectations?
B.T.: Leadership is not about bossing people or solely about motivating people, it is also about providing clear targets and a sense of purpose that everyone in the organization buys into. I believe doing well in this field does not really require extraordinary skills. It’s enough to pay attention, to stay conscious and conscientious. If this condition is fulfilled, there is only one task to tackle: we have to get along well. Maybe that is what requires extraordinary skills … a grumpy old man might be harder to manage than all the wineries in California.