Toasting a Man, His Wine and Pink Bunny Slippers

84482695Peter Byck and I were classmates in Wharton’s MBA Class of 1990. When I think about Peter, I don’t think about wine or his success. I vividly remember the huge pink bunny slippers he wore while we studied or watched the Final Four basketball tournament. I can still hear his feet drag across the hardwood floor in his apartment in those goofy things.

I had to ask, “What ever happened to those oversized, fluffy, pink bunny slippers? Did you give them to your daughter?”

He belly-laughed and said, “Heck John, I don’t know. I forgot that I even wore them until now.”

“You used to scare the hell out of me wearing those. I thought that you should know that,” I replied.

Pete intrigued me during our time at Wharton. He has the confidence, intellect, upbringing and street credibility of a dozen Wharton MBAs—which is almost as scary as those bunny slippers.

Pete now is CEO of Winery Exchange; however, his success in the wine industry has not come easily.

Peter Byck, WG'90

Peter Byck, WG’90

Born in Holland, Pete’s mother constantly encouraged him to “be your own boss” and be philanthropic. Red and white wine flow through his veins from when his family acquired a ranch and converted it into Paradise Ridge Winery in Sonoma. His brother and sister run the winery today. Pete was the vineyard manager back in the day. He talked about planting the vines, hoeing the vineyard rows, and pounding stakes into the ground as he yearned for a bigger role in the wine industry.

After graduating from Wharton, he moved to Australia to work for LEK, an international consulting firm with a major wine client. He developed a strategy enabling that client to ultimately become South Corp., the largest winery in Australia.

In 1999, he co-founded Winery Exchange in California with the intent of bringing technology, best practices and innovative thinking to winemakers and retailers worldwide. It was challenging. According to Pete, the biggest obstacle that he overcame to build this successful business model happened when one of its major focuses, auctions, didn’t work.

“Also my largest customer got acquired and went away.  I had multiple layoffs and had to regroup,” he recounts.

Pete talked at length with me about information technology in the wine industry. After 12 years, his IT business unit has taken off, thanks in part to Pete’s hire of Scott Diehl, WG’90, to run its sales. It was exciting for this Class of 1990 graduate to learn that classmates Scott Hammond, Dale Pistilli and Diehl had helped Pete with the initial Series A seed money to fund Winery Exchange.

Pete took the Winery Exchange from startup in 1999 to north of $100 million in revenue today. For most of us entrepreneurs, that performance might take multiple generations of time. Initially, the Winery Exchange traded grapes and wine supplies and then pivoted to a private label wine company and completely refocused its business model. Formulaically, the business model can be expressed as:

Technology + Entrepreneurship + Wine = Winery Exchange

Put that into your HP12c.

I asked, “As a father of four children and with a spouse who has developed a serious illness, do you have any advice for us entrepreneurial fathers and spouses out there?”

After pausing and sighing, he replied, “Stay in the present moment, compartmentalize your business and personal tasks, and focus. Otherwise, it overwhelms you. Let’s face it; you’ve got to work really hard. I’ve been very open with my company about my family. They come first.”

Editor’s note: To learn more about Peter Byck and the Winery Exchange, visit www.wineryexchange.comTo submit your own Wharton success story for possible inclusion in John’s future blogs, email the author at john@pioneerbusinessventures.com.

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