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San Diego State University

Fowler College of
Business Administration

Alumni Spotlight

Rick Tigner and the Business of Wine

Rick Tigner

It's been said that a good sales person will always have a job.

As is the case with Rick Tigner ('85, marketing) who, for the past two years, has been the president of Kendall-Jackson Winery. He has gained national attention when he appeared on the CBS television program Undercover Boss last year.

Tigner chose to attend San Diego State in the early 1980s because "the school has a great business and marketing department – plus a beautiful campus and campus life." He chose to major in marketing in order to enhance his innate proficiency in salesmanship and to augment his marketing and management skills.

Shortly before graduating in 1985, Tigner learned one of the most important lessons of his college career. After he accepted his first job offer – a sales position at E. & J. Gallo Winery which was based in his hometown of Modesto, Calif. – he told one of his management professors that he was continuing to interview should something better come along. "The professor schooled me on integrity and commitment," he recalled. "It was a good lesson I will always remember."

The school has a great business and marketing department – plus a beautiful campus and campus life.
Rick Tigner tending bar

While working in the vineyard during Undercover Boss, Tigner discovered some issues that the company needed to address (Photo Courtesy: CBS / UndercoverBoss)

After working for Gallo, Miller Brewing Company and Louis M. Martini, Tigner took a sales position in 1991 with Kendall-Jackson Winery in Santa Rosa, Calif., and, through the years, he rose through the ranks. Eventually, he became the head of the national sales team and was fortunate enough to be recognized and mentored by the winery's founder, Jess Jackson. Shortly before his death in 2011, Jackson asked him if he thought he was ready to lead the organization. Tigner replied "yes" and was promoted to the company's president shortly thereafter.

Tigner came to the company after it had already gained great popularity, but the winery owes part of its success to a couple of incidents that were initially perceived as failures. When the Jackson family first began farming grapes in the mid-1970s, they had problems selling them to local wine makers, so they began making wine themselves. It was a risk, but it ended up being a savvy decision.

In 1982, the fermentation process on a batch of chardonnay prematurely stopped, meaning that the sugar stopped converting into alcohol, making the wine slightly sweeter. Jess Jackson decided to sell the wine anyway, labeling it Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay. It became a huge hit with consumers and propelled the company into a household name.

The social atmosphere at SDSU helped me with how to influence people and the discipline of study and participation – and hard work – prepared me in general for the workplace.
Rick Tigner taking notes in the vineyard

Tigner in disguise as during the Undercover Boss filming (Photo Courtesy: CBS / Undercover Boss)

It was because the brand is so well-known that CBS first approached the company in the summer of 2011 to consider doing an episode of Undercover Boss. "We thought it was an interesting opportunity to both share the story of Jackson Family Wines – especially the powerful family story, hard work that goes into each bottle, and beautiful story of our land and vineyards – as well as give me a new perspective on the company," recalled Tigner. "Jess used to say that good leaders sometimes have to fly at the 30,000-foot level as well as the 3-foot level. Doing the show let me do just that by engaging with some employees in a way that's just not possible otherwise." The show aired in January 2012, and a follow-up feature was included in the May 2013 special episode called "Undercover Boss: Epic Bosses."

Since the Undercover Boss experience, Kendall-Jackson has strived to make improvements to its employee training and education programs and created the Jess S. Jackson Lifetime Achievement award to recognize the loyalty of long-standing employees. Perhaps most importantly, the company implemented a language training program that teaches English to Spanish-speaking employees and Spanish to English-speaking employees – a class that Tigner took himself. "Now we have employees better able to communicate and we're giving people language skills that are good for everyone," he said.

And while Tigner is at the top of his game in the business world, he still leans on many of the lessons he learned while at SDSU. "My education provided me with well-rounded knowledge in marketing, management and economics, which come into play every day in my career and my current position as president," he said. "The social atmosphere at SDSU helped me with how to influence people and the discipline of study and participation – and hard work – prepared me in general for the workplace."

While the obvious answer to success is hard work, Tigner also offers some additional words of wisdom to today's SDSU business students:

  • Ask questions and get engaged with fellow students and professors.
  • Stay current with current news events and the world around you.
  • Be self-aware and work to improve areas of needed development. Embrace positive criticism.
AACSB accredited

The Fowler College of Business Administration is fully accredited by AACSB International – The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business