Lessons from Jess Jackson
Sometimes I wonder about Attorneys. We work long and hard hours. We live for our clients and everything else is marginalized for them in and out of court. It is no wonder that many attorneys leave the profession, take to substance abuse, have hobbies or other businesses that consume their creative side.
When I heard about the story of Jess Jackson and the Kendall-Jackson Winery, I was curious about him. Jackson started from very humble beginnings and sometimes only had rice to eat growing up. He worked many odd jobs as a child and even through law school. Jackson went to law school at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, and decided to practice in the area of real estate law. During his time as a real estate lawyer, he tried cases before the Supreme Court. Jackson then went into the wine business to later become a billionaire.
In 1974, Jackson started the Kendall-Jackson wine business with the purchase of an 80-acre orchard that was converted to a vineyard. Jackson started by selling the grapes that he grew to other wineries, but there was a surplus of grapes in 1981. When he realized that selling the grapes was not going to cover the cost of growing them he had a plan. After researching the market he discovered that there a portion of the market that was neglected, the market for a reasonably priced and quality wine. He did not want to follow the market by producing low-quality and inexpensive wine, he wanted to make a a reasonably priced wine from quality grapes. In 1982, he produced his first chardonnay, Vintner’s Reserve, priced at $4.50. This price was more than you would pay for jug wine but less than a french wine or other superior wine of the trade at the time. This wine found favor with the American palate. “Our goal is to broaden the consuming public, to bring neophyte people to wine,” said Jackson. He then began acquiring wineries around the world.
Jackson’s law degree served him well in the wine industry and he did not leave it behind after becoming CEO of Kendall-Jackson. He sued his chief winemaker at the company, Jed Steele, for revealing trade secrets, i.e. the recipe for the Vintner’s Reserve, when Steele left the company in 1990. In a victory for Jackson, the Court ruled that the winery owns the formula and not the winemaker.
“Jess was man of very strong principle who stood up for what he believed in. There won’t be another one to come along like Jess Jackson for a long time.” — Fred Furth, former owner of Chalk Hill winery.
In the end, Jackson was a talented attorney, CEO and winemaker, with strong principles of excellence that guided his accomplishments. He saw opportunities where others did not. We should all strive to be a little more like him and leave a legacy driven by our passion that benefits others. Hope this offers you a little inspiration on a Friday.
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