Being true to tradition means constant improvement – the Turul philosophy

(published in Wine Times, February 2010)

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, until recently?
B.T.: I value, and have always valued hard work, dedication to quality, optimism, loyalty, honesty. Top on 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 it 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 a leader?
B.T.: I think I have a sense of humor. I consider that an indispensable quality in a manager. A leader has to learn to laugh at himself.

W.T.: What  are your primary concerns, pressures, or problems – if any?
B.T.: Sure I also have tasks to cope with, running a business can never do without that… At present, I have to find an experienced and trustworthy general manager, someone with whom all the staff can well cooperate. The staff turnover has grown higher than I believe is healthy in this kind of business… I take the issue of fluctuation seriously also because we are all a family in the greater sense. And if a member of a family leaves us, we’ll definitely miss her or him… This is no multinational environment where the company culture would be fit for easy replacements…

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 at today.

W.T.: What do you expect from the next generation? Do you intend to keep control?
B.T.: I don’t think that there be a one and only way of doing a business good. 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, I am less energetic than a big boss of a winery – any winery – should be. It doesn’t bother me though. I enjoy my age and experience, and am proud of our wines, the whole Turul history. But turning back to the present state of the Winery, a shift in the genaral manager’s position will have a tremendous effect on the whole funcitoning. We are in a transitional state now. We need to re-invent our true identity, and re-affirm our mission and vision. Many old-timers are nostalgic for the good old days, when the company wasn’t terribly profitable or 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. Still, they need someone to show them the way forward. I am positive that old values and new organization structure can perfectly be balanced out if we all want to achieve a target that requires common effort and will benefit both newcomers and the old staff. Winning the “Spirit of the Wine” competition is a goal worth pursuing for us. It would be a public validation of dedication and loyalty.

W.T.: What makes a good top manager? What are the potential qualities that you are looking for the job of 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 and his subordinates. And this new leader has to prove himself here in the practice – and he won’t have an indefinite probationary period.

W.T.: How can you put all that into a work contract? Could any candidate live up to such high expectations at all?
B.T.: Leadership is not about bossing people or only 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 does not really require super skills. It’s enough to pay attention – staying conscious and conscientious. If this condition is fulfilled, there is only one catch to tackle: we have to get on well. Maybe, that would need the super power… a grumpy old man might be harder to manage than all the wineries in California.