A Career Executive Conquers All Frontiers

A Career Executive Conquers All Frontiers
A closer look at a female wine and spirits executive’s expansive career
By Liza B. Zimmerman, D.W.S.

MaryAnn Pisani was a stay-at-home mom raising kids when she met MHW’s President and Founder, John Beaudette. “I had been at home for 15 years and my youngest had just started school,” notes the current mother of four and grandmother of three on her decision to go back to work.

Pisani jokes that when she was hired, “there wasn’t even room for me in the office.” Beaudette’s offer of part-time work quickly ramped up to 50 hours a week when she joined the company in 1997. He wanted someone who could be flexible and dive right in, and she was more than game. Over time, Pisani learned to be a consummate client partner and a respected industry expert who is passionately invested in the growth of MHW at home and abroad. Pisani is currently the Chief Revenue Officer for MHW, a pivotal role.

I recently sat down with the seasoned executive to talk about her past two decades at the Manhasset, New York-based wine, beer and spirits distributor and importer. It’s been an impressive journey: MHW is one of the foremost importers, distributors and service providers in the U.S., E.U. and U.K. and has brought more than 85,000 products to market from more than 100 countries around the world.

For Pisani, a hands-on approach has made all the difference. During her initial hands-on experience working with the company, she “learned every part of the business, from compliance to logistics to operations, as employee number five.” As the company gradually blossomed from five to 140 employees, Pisani believes her experience in every sector of the company’s business gave her a solid and comprehensive background about a complicated business.

Points of Pride

Pisani has experienced a lot of gratification over her 24 years at the helm of the company. “I am most proud of the amount I learned coming into an industry that I knew nothing about,” she notes. It is a source of considerable pride to see “how many people I mentored, who started out in entry-level positions, who are now directors.”

She also appreciates how enjoyable and fun it is to work in the wine and spirits community. “After all, we are not selling widgets,” she notes. It is a business that “everyone is familiar with and that makes me think of socializing and being happy.” When it comes to the bottom line, the wine and spirits products sold by MHW “create joy and bring people together.”

A few years into her career at MHW, Pisani started to meet with clients and found a true vocation helping clients build paths to market, including some of the biggest names in the industry. “I realized that I loved finding solutions!” she shares. She ended up signing Proximo to transition 1800 Tequila when the brand’s contract was up with SKYY. Two months later, MHW also landed the million-case Three Olives brand to transition for Proximo as well. Pisani has since helped MHW clients achieve their goals in many markets, including more than a dozen control states, a particularly complicated and highly regulated side of the business, where she is a known expert.

Pisani has been part of the exponential growth of MHW’s scope of Client Services during her tenure. She is particularly proud of her contribution to customer service, including the “MHW Client Reporting Dashboard” that shows clients real-time data in terms of sales, inventory, and other critical business insights. She joyfully calls it complete “sales transparency.”

Strategic Challenges

Importing and distributing wine and spirits in the U.S. is challenging, as the country is effectively comprised of 50 different markets, divided by an ever-changing landscape of importers and distributors, and further complicated by control states and dry counties. Pisani helps producers navigate this maze and offers them multiple opportunities for their sales’ needs.

“You have a client who is looking at 500 different regulatory systems,” Pisani notes. She explains, “Not only does MHW have licenses to operate in every state, but we also have the expertise. Our unparalleled skill set and relationships provide prospective clients’ a distinct advantage, including the ability to market test a product to see if it has potential for traction.”

Pisani’s experience has shown that, “Most producers choose MHW as a distribution partner to take their destiny back into their own hands.” Part of empowering clients involves providing simple explanations to questions such as how control and franchise states work and preparing them for what to anticipate in terms of timing and sales when entering the U.S. market. Solutions are tailored to their needs, including distribution options in all 50 states. Pisani equates the services they provide to virtually setting up a U.S. office for every brand in MHW’s portfolio.

Lessons Learned

Over the past two decades, Pisani has become a tried-and-true veteran of the drinks sales and distribution business. As a result, her insight and advice go a long way. “You have to have patience to sell product in the U.S.,” she comments. “It is a slow go. It takes time, and there is a tremendous amount of competition out there.”

Pisani always advises producers and their brand marketing teams to have a robust sales presence in the U.S. if they want to educate consumers to move product. Pisani says, “Our clients invest and actively participate in the selling of the brand.”

Beyond having an active presence in the market, smart suppliers should be aware of some of the ways that the market is evolving. “Integrated marketing, including a strong digital program, is crucial. It is no longer enough to buy an ad somewhere,” declares Pisani. She has observed that leading brands always find the most effective way to reach consumers. “Having a story to tell, whether on Instagram or elsewhere, continues to be important. You have to engage with people,” she adds. “They will fall in love with the product if someone introduces them to it.” In the meantime, Pisani and her MHW team help their brand partners find the smoothest path to market.

Pisani plans to share more of her insights at an upcoming Women of the Vine & Spirits C-Suite webinar in September. It will focus on finding your voice in the boardroom, as well as achieving better work-life balance. Pisani adds how important it is for women in the wine and spirits business to be seen as equals, to take a seat at the table, and “make sure you use that seat well.”