Jim Bernau: A story of leadership in the wine industry

Jim Bernau, Founder/Winegrower, Willamette Valley Vineyards

If you ask Jim Bernau how long he has worked in the wine industry, he will tell you that he can only remember ever working two days.
Maybe someday he will tell us which two days those were…


Dean’s Executive Series with Willamette Valley Vineyards founder

This story begins like it did for many of us. Being served small amounts of wine at the dinner table by our parents. But in Bernau’s case, it was made by the first emigrating winemaker since Prohibition: UC Davis graduate Richard Sommer, who believed it was in Oregon ― not California ― where he would grow world-class pinot noir.

Sommer needed a lawyer to obtain the necessary licenses that the state hadn’t issued in more than 30 years, so he drove his pick-up truck into the small town of Roseburg to find himself a lawyer, and hired Bernau’s dad. By 1963, Sommer had produced 200 gallons of wine.

First motivated by its effects more than its flavor, Bernau began by fermenting the concord grape juice that his mom kept in the freezer, guided by information on fermentation in the family encyclopedias, later graduating to Sommer’s grapes – hiding the bottles under the crawl spaces of the house.

While Bernau’s father wanted him to return from Willamette Law School to the family practice, he chose to pursue his interest in government and wine, representing the Oregon Winegrowers in the passage of the Oregon Wine Advisory Board for the research and promotion of the industry in 1981, his first piece of legislation as a young lobbyist.

In the same year, he began searching for vineyard land, found an old overgrown pioneer plum orchard in the Salem hills and began planting pinot noir in 1983, watering his vines with 17 lengths of 75-foot garden hose he’d bought on special. Bernau named it Willamette Valley Vineyards – later to become grandfathered into federal law when the American Viticultural Area was federally authorized.

While the vines were growing, Bernau concentrated on helping the Oregon Winegrowers by passing legislation on making wineries a permitted use on farmland, the direct shipment of wine, wine tastings in stores and restaurants, and later the establishment of the Oregon Wine Board. Bernau’s personal gift to Oregon State University established the first professorship for fermentation science in the nation.

His fellow winemakers recognized Bernau’s early work with the industry’s Founder’s Award followed by the Governor’s Gold, presented by Oregon’s four living Governors. His wines created quite a stir by when they appeared on the television shows “West Wing” and “Friends,” and were later served at White House State dinners. Willamette Valley Vineyards was eventually listed among the top 100 Wines in the World by Wine Spectator, named “One of America’s Great Pinot Noir Producers” by Wine Enthusiast and was dubbed “Winery of the Year” by Wine and Spirits.

The recognition Bernau values most came from his fellow winegrowers when he involved in creating the first system of environmental stewardship in American agriculture, the Low Impact Viticulture and Enology program, followed by awards presented by the Rainforest Alliance and the American Wine Society.

Bernau believes among healthiest forms of business organization are those owned by the community. He conducted one of the earliest “crowd funding” in the nation to build his winery by obtaining permission from the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1988, resulting in a growing fabric of laws allowing community-based funding for small businesses. Willamette Valley Vineyards has grown to more than 16,000 wine enthusiast shareholders and is listed on the NASDAQ under the symbol WVVI.

COB alum helps open Harris center

Jaymes Winters speaks at the grand opening of the Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center.
Jaymes Winters speaks at the grand opening of the Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center.

College of Business graduate Jaymes Winters, class of 1985, was the kickoff speaker April 15 at the grand opening celebration of the new home of the Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center.

Winters, the late Harris’ nephew, is the CEO of Blue Leopard Capital, a private equity fund based in Portland. He told the overflow crowd of nearly 300 that he hoped the new facility could be “a center for everybody to get a better understanding of each other, what diversity is all about, and not just a place people visit on Kwanzaa and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.”

Winters batted leadoff for a lineup of speakers that included Geoff Brooks, a 1972 Oregon State alumnus and a member of the OSU board of visitors; fellow board member Larry Griggs; Corvallis NAACP president Barry Jerkins; and OSU president Ed Ray.

The grand opening was intentionally scheduled for April 15 because it’s Jackie Robinson Day, the date in 1947 that Robinson broke major league baseball’s color barrier; Harris, the first director of the university’s Educational Opportunities Program, was an accomplished baseball player and coach, Griggs said.

The center that bears his name, a gleaming brick and wood structure, is at the corner of Monroe Avenue and Memorial Place.

Winters said he wants the center to be a place people visit regularly and truly learn about each other.
Winters said he wants the center to be a place people visit regularly and truly learn about each other.



Alumna Wassana Yantasee, Ph.D., Exemplifies Versatility of Oregon State’s MBA Program

headshot of Wassana Yantasee
Oregon State MBA alum Wassana Yantasee, Ph.D.

Oregon State alumna Wassana Yantasee, Ph.D. has a very impressive résumé and list of accomplishments. Certainly not least among them was that Yantasee completed her MBA at night while simultaneously earning her doctorate in chemical engineering during the day.

Currently an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine, Yantasee’s research focuses on implementing nanomaterials into medicine in order to treat cancer and toxic metal exposure.

In addition to her teaching and research, Yantasee is also the president of the small biotech company PDX Pharmaceuticals that has received a fast-track Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract award from the National Cancer Institute to develop a new drug that will potentially treat cancer that becomes resistant to the standard-of-care drugs.

Logo for MBA grad Yantasee's PDX Pharmaceuticals
Yantasee’s biotech company has received an award from the National Cancer Institute to develop new drugs to combat drug-resistant cancer.

“My MBA training helps me with my career as a scientist tremendously in terms of proposal development and doing scientific research with the market and customer needs in mind,” said Yantasee. “I believe that science and business can’t be exclusive of each other.”

Yantasee says that her MBA courses prepared her for the business planning and market analysis required to secure the SBIR grants and contracts from federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, and to effectively manage them afterward. Yantasee’s MBA experience is also helping her give back to the next generation of students.

“I’m most proud of being able to give all four of my current Ph.D. students free education through funding from my research grants, and my MBA training helps me with balancing budget costs effectively as well as managing people and the resources that make it possible,” said Yantasee.

Even though she grew up in Thailand, Yantasee found Oregon State to be a perfect fit. “Although I was far from home, I felt at home at OSU. The university has great student diversity, and I had opportunities to make friends from all over the world,” she said.

Yantasee’s advice for current students at Oregon State? Take advantage of information technology. “Information is so easily accessible today, allowing students to learn new things both inside and outside of the classroom,” she said.

“I received excellent education through OSU’s MBA program, and would strongly recommend it to anyone who has an opportunity,” added Yantasee.

Wassana is proof that there’s truly no limit to the uses and applications that an MBA from Oregon State will have in any career, and we’re proud to count her as an alum!

Eric Allyn shares his advice for a successful family business

Eric Allyn, a fourth-generation owner of medical device manufacturer Welch Allyn, Inc., will serve as the inaugural keynote speaker for the Austin Family Business Program’s Excellence in Family Business Awards, being held tonight at the Governor Hotel in Portland.

Allyn has been a strong advocate for family business throughout his career, and recently sat down with AFBP for a Q&A in advance of tonight’s keynote address.

Eric Allyn is the keynote speaker at the 2013 Excellence in Family Business Awards.
Eric Allyn is the keynote speaker at the 2013 Excellence in Family Business Awards.

Oldest family business owner: 78, third generation
Youngest family business owner: Due December 31
Number of family members working in the operating business: 2 Ownership generations: 3rd, 4th and 5th generations
Last family vacation destination: Skaneateles NY

Family business book that you recommend most often: John Ward and Jennifer Pendergast’s “Building a Successful Family Business Board: A Guide for Leaders, Directors, and Families” and any case studies of family businesses, such as the Mondavi family or the Busch family case.

Best advice you’ve given your children: I don’t expect them to be great managers of our business but I do expect them to be great stewards!

Best business decision you made as an executive in the family business: By far the best decision was to insist that we move the governance of our business from family management to family ownership with outside management.

How would you describe your work in family business education: Our company transitioned to a non-family CEO in 2007 and I stayed two years to help the transition. I was elected chairman by our board and now serve other families by speaking to leadership groups and in sit- ting on family business boards in the pharmaceutical and medical fields. What I enjoy doing most is sharing the Welch Allyn story to prepare the next generation, especially how to use succession planning tools to push the ownership down to the younger generations.

Why are you committed to this work? I think family business should be, and need to be, more competitive than public companies. They can make quicker decisions and ownership is close to management. I have no time for the big public markets and excessive regulations but I will always take the time for people of the next generation.

I love to compete against GE, Phillips and Siemens. There’s a big difference than working for these and for Welch Allyn, Inc. that has long term vision, values the brand and thinks generationally, not quarterly. That makes it more fun to compete against GE in winning a hospital bid. If the customer is really buying value and a long-term solution then we will help them do their work and solve their problems. It’s not transactional and it’s not a commodity. Family businesses can do that much more effectively.