Each month, ForceBrands partners with The Tasting Panel magazine. The Tasting Panel offers an insider’s look at the tastemakers and trendsetters in today’s growing beverage industry. From winemaker profiles, to brands that are the bartenders’ best friend, this monthly publication gets up close and personal with today’s influencers and explores the products they love the most. With a readership of 85,000 professionals across all levels of the industry, The Tasting Panel maintains its position as a leading authoritative voice in the beverage industry. This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of The Tasting Panel.

John Meisler set out for a career in law but quickly fell in love with the storytelling and epicurean elements of the wine industry. It was a natural move for him. With a name like Zatarain’s in the family tree, Meisler applies his fond appreciation for food, wine, and spirits, and nearly three decades in sales and branding to his current role as the Vice President of Sales at Serralles USA, Destilería Serrallés, Inc.

We caught up with him to learn more about his unique background and experience building and selling some of the world’s most celebrated wine and spirits brands.

John MeislerForceBrands: You have a very dynamic background in both food and beverage. What inspired you to join the alcoholic beverage industry?
John Meisler: Quite frankly, while finishing my degree in Management Science at Tulane and attending Loyola Law in New Orleans, I had a connection at South Glazer’s Wine and Spirits in New Orleans through a co-worker at a part-time retail job. The connection just happened to be the top guy! I started calling on a retail chain of 110 convenient stores called Time Saver selling Riunite Wine and MD 20/20, stocking cold-boxes and filling shelves. From there, I went to fine wines. When I graduated law at the age of 23, Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits offered me the opportunity to run a spirts division in New Orleans. By this time, I was simply in love with the industry, the romance of the wine business, the storytelling, and the entire epicurean process of food, wine, and spirits. After all, with a name like Zatarain’s in the family tree — flavors and spices were just second nature! How could this not be more exciting than a legal career? I jumped at the opportunity with Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits as a very young man and never looked back. From there, it was a world of opportunities in sales, sales strategy and management, sales training and brand education at Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits and a long career at Jim Beam and now Serralles.

FB: With more than 30 years of experience in sales and branding, what have been some of the most exciting projects or highlights of your career?
JM: Top of the list would be the Ways of Working projects at Beam and at Serralles — defining exactly the distributor management processes and translating the marketing plans into executable Sales KPIs and straightforward programs.

Building the Brand Education Platform at Both Beam and Serralles has been most rewarding. After all, the key to sales is not just the relationships we build, but a keen knowledge of what we are selling — providing contest, differences, highlights, history, and usage.

Throughout my career, a passion for food has always been present. My work with Cooking with Spirits has always been a highlight. With a long, rich family history in New Orleans (beginning in the early 1700s), it was my grandmother’s family that opened Delmonico’s in the late 1800s. Creole cuisine was a way of life. Using that heritage and learning in “grandma’s kitchen,” I was able to work with local and international chefs to develop an entire style of cuisine that uses the flavors and textures in spirits (wood, caramel, smoke, grains, tannins, etc.) as a base for the creation — not just an afterthought. It’s been quite an experience being featured at EPCOT as a celebrity chef, across local and cable television, and food, wine, and spirits events all around the world. I call it “Cooking with Puerto Rican Rum — My favorite Spice Rack.” It combines the flavors of the Caribbean with the New Orleans spirit with Don Q Rums as an integral starting point.

FB: What do you find most rewarding about the work you’re doing now in your role as VP of Sales at Serralles USA at Destilería Serrallés, Inc?
JM: The opportunity to mold a team combining new ideas and technology with the standard, tried and true sales practices. It’s truly an honor working with a family-owned company like Serralles, having more than 150 years of rum-making experience in the rum capital of the world — Puerto Rico. I have learned so much and it’s very rewarding to be a part of the product development of the premium, aged rum collections.

FB: At ForceBrands, we build the teams that build the brands. When it comes to hiring, what are some best tips for building successful teams?
JM: It’s really important to lay out your expectations to ForceBrands. The time you put into that single step pays off exponentially. If you’re looking for a street-savvy representative or a strong manager, it’s important to manage that expectation. The parts are not interchangeable! I also like to cross-pollinate different experiences from different companies, large and small, as they will have developed different skill sets. Understanding those strengths allows you to have a breadth of knowledge and experience to grow your company. In smaller organizations, this can even be more pronounced. Then you lean on those individuals with different experiences to help focus on those organizational needs. Finally, when it comes to hiring, live personal interactions between you and the potential candidate’s peers really allows you to look in their eyes and measure the fit; both for your organization and for the candidate.

FB: As a leader, what does team culture mean to you? And how do you help foster and nurture a strong, cohesive culture?
JM: For universal results in small to mid-size organizations, culture is paramount. Communication comes first — regular cohesive communication and not just email. It’s important that management understands and can support issues or roadblocks. Secondly, specific expectations and rewards. Layout the roadmaps to personal and professional accomplishment. Lastly, a culture that utilizes the different skills of each individual is not only better prepared to meet the challenges, but the individuals have a stronger feeling of inclusion and being part of an organization where they can add value.

Interested in exploring brand building or career development in the beverage industry? Explore our BevForce division.