As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Estevez, CEO and Founder of marketing and communications firm OMvino.
Jennifer is an auto-didact who turned her love for wine into a career as a sommelier that enabled her to travel the world. After discovering a huge knowledge gap between those people who understand fine hospitality and the communications being done around it, Jennifer established her own company to nurture other driven, self-sufficient food and drinks professionals as they pivoted to living a digitally nomadic lifestyle. As Jennifer has always forged her own path, rather than working for others in established companies and being promoted up the career ladder, she has a unique take on shouldering responsibility without knowing what to expect.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I started off working in the wine industry as a sommelier, in sales and as a consultant. Wine was my passion and I achieved the certification of Advanced Sommelier, and sat my Master Sommelier Exam twice. I started my business after consulting on many restaurants and private cellars. I realized that there was a need for marketing and communications companies in the food and beverage industry which was run by professionals who understood food and beverage, specifically in the luxury market.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When I started the company one of our first clients was a budding vodka brand. Their CEO was VERY intense and would call at all hours of the day over little things. One of my most memorable moments was accidentally picking up a call at 2 a.m. PST while I was in Iceland on a weekend vacation driving through glaciers. I was driving a stick shift, navigating rugged terrain and listening to his detailed concerns about social media. I realized at that moment I needed to set better boundaries with clients.
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 once made the mistake of working with a client which was a boutique tie brand that will not be named. The tie was unique to say the least. It was a cross between a lingerie, or boudoir item and professional item, and the client was equally as eccentric. As I attended a work meeting with him to coordinate their launch event, I somehow ended up getting roped into modeling for a teaser video for the event. I had to ride up and down Lombard Street in San Francisco on the back of a Vespa in heels and a dress… about 10 times. The situation was just so weirdly misogynistic and hilarious, it kind of took me by surprise. Lesson learned: say no to creeps.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When I first started becoming interested in marketing consultation I had so much support from my food and beverage community. I still do. One of my old wine sales clients, D&M Wine and Liquor, became one of my first marketing clients. They gave me lots of connections and championed my growth, specifically the owner, Karen. She practically adopted me and was enthusiastic to see me succeed as a young woman. I grew quickly because of her help and connections. I was learning and moving quickly and made mistakes at some points, but she consistently gave me positive and constructive feedback.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Diversity is strength and power. People from different backgrounds have different viewpoints and nurturing the strength of those differences is crucial to efficient growth and inclusivity. Division and oppression do not stir creativity or inspire collaboration.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
When BLM started our team looked at each other, and decided that we couldn’t be quiet. We didn’t want to create a social media post and call it a day because that wouldn’t do justice to those who are struggling for equality. Instead, we decided to partner with companies like Be the Change, the first virtual inclusive job fair, and Diversity in Food and Beverage to be active contributors, not just silent supporters. We donated our time and energy to getting those businesses dialed in with many different types of marketing services. Representation to us means talking about it and showing up. Inclusivity to us means supporting women and minorities especially with our actions and time in business. Equity to us is creating the culture in our company that we want to see others create.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
I don’t think you truly know what being a CEO is like unless you’re a CEO and even then, every CEO’s experience is different, based on their industry. As a CEO in marketing and communications, I think you need to have a general understanding of every part of your business and embody your culture. Many other executives in a company are unifocus, finance, operations tech, and so on. To be a good CEO you need to be able to speak the language of your business. For me that’s communication. I am constantly communicating with all of my team. I am responsible for the big picture and also the minutia. For me being a CEO is continually working on building the culture and integrity of your people and product.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
People think that being a CEO is glorious, glamorous, lucrative and being in charge is fun. Don’t get me wrong — being the boss has its perks, and sometimes it can be all of those things but it’s also a lot of work, sweat, blood, tears. Especially if you are a CEO and founder, it’s a lot of work to build a company from the ground up. Being a CEO has often meant managing client and employee emotions and expectations, cleaning up messes and being the first one to put yourself in the line of fire.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I thought that eventually it would get easier and I would get bored. I never get bored, that’s for sure. While it has gotten easier in some ways over the years, there are always new and exciting challenges. Honestly, I love it because it keeps me feeling like I am in a constant state of growth and learning.
Presumably not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
You need to have a thick skin, good conflict resolution skills and you should thrive in an environment where you are constantly learning and innovating. As a CEO, I am a part of overseeing business development and sales. You hear “no” more often than you hear “yes” in these departments. Not taking it personally and moving forward is integral to success. It’s easy to get lost in failures, but a good CEO sees them as opportunities for self-discovery. Conflict resolution skills are important, because when employees have a problem in their department that they can’t solve, they come to you. Managing external client expectations and internal growth opportunities with tact is crucial to your company’s wellbeing and sets the stage for how your entire company will act. Not everyone is good at that, or wants to do that.
Most importantly, to be a successful CEO you should be constantly learning and growing: for your company to grow, you can’t be stagnant. You should be looking forward and always innovating in big and small ways to keep your team engaged, your product looking sharp, and your clients happy.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
Create the culture that you want to see and lead by example because your team will echo all the big and small things that you do. Uphold your executives and managers to the same standards. Allow space for constructive and positive feedback from employees of all statues. Set goals for accountability. You cannot ask your employees to do things that you and your executive team are not doing. This is detrimental to the core of your culture and you can’t sacrifice that.
If you have a team that respects and admires your business they will pick up your traits, both negative and positive. As an example, our company culture dictates that we speak to each other respectfully and offer both constructive and positive feedback openly. For the most part we are a very harmonious group. As an example, I sometimes say, “I have mentioned this before,” when I have to repeat myself in a meeting. I received the feedback that this was not a constructive way to address reiterating a task or concern.
I didn’t even have a chance to internalize that feedback before I heard one of my employees say this. I realized it did not sound ideal. I listened, and noticed how using different phrasing changed the dynamics of the conversation completely. My team gave positive feedback on this and quickly moved to using this phrasing. Through this action, I listened and received constructive feedback, was held accountable, and honored my culture. In short, small actions can accomplish a lot.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I speak up and use the amplification of my voice that success has given me to talk about things that matter. I want to spread the message of kindness, compassion, equity, diversity and self-care. I am passionate about plant-based living, health, wellness, and the environment. I donate the knowledge gained through my success to charity. I want my success to be a testament to empower anyone who wants to start their own business. In my opinion, entrepreneurs are not just entrepreneurs, they are innovators and activists and shape the future.
Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
I wish someone had told me how becoming a CEO is like having a kid. If you are a CEO and founder, you have this whole entity that you are responsible for that takes on a life and personality of its own. It goes through awkward phases, it makes you proud, sometimes its growth is as messy as it is beautiful.
I wish I had known how much I would value solitude so I could have made a little more time for it. I joke (but not totally joking) that I can’t wait for the day that I can take a 10-day vipassana, or silent retreat. They take your phone, and you just don’t talk for 10 days, sounds like heaven.
I wish I had known that being in charge is not the glamorous job that people think it is, and often you’re the one who cleans up all the mess. You have to learn to love that too. There is beauty in wrangling that chaos.
I wish I had known how to manage my time and energy better and make sure I put that in order first so everything else falls into place. Calendar management and personal time management go hand in hand. I still think I have room for improvement but I am constantly trying to learn how I can be better organized.
I wish I had been told just how much of a virtue patience really is, and how much of it I would have to learn out of absolute necessity. Meditation truly has become something I go to for solace, not just force myself to do out of a sense of duty like I used to. Getting better at it really changed my life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If everyone took one month for themselves for self work and introspection once in their life, the world would be a different place. As humans we spend so much time externally, working, living and really just surviving sometimes, that we don’t forget to go inward and be introspective. We forget to nurture ourselves sometimes and be kind to ourselves in the way we are to others. I learned a lot about that when I took a month and a half to go and live in India and do my advanced yoga teacher training. My business partners had my back and I only worked the bare minimum that I needed to keep things moving. I just took time to think and breathe. I connected with my body and mind in a way that I never had before, and it changed how I looked at the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“What you seek, is seeking you” Whatever you need will come around to you if you are looking for it. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and need from yourself, from others or from the world. I would not be where I am in business or in life if I did not chase my dreams and aspirations. Some of them didn’t work out but I took those as things that were not meant for me. It’s ok.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to have lunch with Ben Horowitz. I read his book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” when I was going through a super hard period of life last year at the beginning of Covid. I was dealing with the pandemic, buying out my business partner, and going through a tough breakup all at once, and that book was key in inspiring me to push through. I respect his business journey and how he prioritizes helping people on their entrepreneurial journey. His other book “What You Do is Who You Are” was also helpful to me in shaping my company culture.