5 Ways Your Leadership Will Benefit from this Vigneron

I love rebels.  I admire those leaders who can see a different future and are able to pull it into the present.  They play by their own rules. They don’t conform to status-quo or dogma. Yes, I still get goose bumps when I watch the ‘Here’s to the crazy ones…’ commercial from Apple.

Here’s a shout out to a leader who thinks differently – Bordeaux winemaker Jean Gautreau.  I think there are several important lessons we can learn from his success.

In 1969 Sociando-Mallet was a forgotten and derelict property on Bordeaux’s Left Bank. Over the past five decades, through considerable expansion and modernization, Gautreau has created a vineyard that produces a fantastic wine with an excellent reputation on the market.

Gautreau, who is 90, has played outside the rules this entire time.  You see, the wines of Bordeaux have a classification and ranking system going back to 1855. As with any such system, especially one that has been around more than 160 years, the restrictions and petty politics abound.

Gautreau, however, has chosen to operate outside the system and, to this day, refuses to enter his wine into the classification system. He plays by his own rules and produces a great wine year after year. He has a loyal following of customers from all around the world. Chateau Sociando Mallet is also one of my all time favourite wines.

What lessons of leadership can we learn from Mssr. Gautreau?

See your company or team’s unique future or destiny

Every successful company or team is capable of something that is unique – something that no other company or team can accomplish.  A leader will see this future and help those around them also realize this. For Gautreau the excellent soil quality (terroir) and magnificent view overlooking the Gironde estuary was, despite its’ condition in 1969, love at first sight.

Create a great product that people will love

Whether it’s fine wine, a laptop computer, a consulting service or a car, customers must love what you produce. Whether it was vine quality, barrels or the buildings on the estate, Gautreau kept investing to build the best.  Let’s remember, there are more choices for consumers today than at any other time in history.  Through advances in technology, such as 3-D printing and the strategic use of a supply chain, consumers will have even more choices in the future.  Create something people will love.

Don’t be afraid to play by your own rules

The ‘rule book’ is not set in stone. It is constantly changing.  Why not try the road less travelled?  Remember, some roads are left unpaved for a reason.


What is worthwhile is difficult. If you want to lead a team or company to an exceptional future you must persevere. There is no other alternative.


Gautreau was constantly looking to innovate. Whether it was with the introduction of mobile bottling units, the blend of grapes in his wine or in the attention to detail and quality that others overlooked, disrupting the status-quo was central to his ‘playbook.’

Let’s raise a glass not only to Jean Gautreau but to the rebels in every field!

Robert Kovach is the Director of Leader Success for Cisco’s Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area. He has been an advisor to leadership teams of Fortune 500, FTSE 100 and FTSE Global 500 companies on driving business strategy through executive leadership effectiveness and organizational agility. The opinions expressed in this blog are his own and not those of Cisco. Contact him for speaking enquiries.

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and www.rentvine.com.

2 thoughts on “5 Ways Your Leadership Will Benefit from this Vigneron

  1. In May 1968 I was in Paris with my French girlfriend protesting on the streets during the day and with her grandparents in the evening. Each evening a bottle of wine came out the cellar and that’s when I first drank Sociando Mallet, a year before jean purchased the estate. By the early 70’s Jean was known as a one of the new ‘revolutionaries’ shaking up the wine industry and the wine was getting better too!

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