Leadership Lessons from History, Technology, Wine, Rock & Roll and Satellite Stalking: Gary Mortensen, CEO of Stoller Family Estate, Shares a Different Path.

Gary Mortensen CEO, Stoller Family Estate
Gary Mortensen
CEO, Stoller Family Estate

Tuesday evening Gary Mortensen, President of Stoller Family Estate, founder of The History Engine and FonWallet Transaction Solutions, Inc., and ACG Portland Board Member came to the Peer Growth Event podium as raconteur.  Perched comfortably and casually on a high stool Mortensen energetically told the tale of his unusual career which has taken him full-circle back to the winemaking industry and the former turkey farm he knew in his youth.

From Sokol Blosser in 1998 to Stoller Family Estate by way of entrepreneurial ventures in IT, documentary filmmaking, and the preservation of US war veteran history, his journey might leave a casual observer to wonder how such disparate endeavors could lead to success.  But as the evening unfolded, a clear path connecting the anecdotes emerged.  Here are some key quotes and observations.

 “… so, you have an 11 year inventory cycle…”

There are some simple, universal principles that apply to every business everywhere.  Wrapping his mind around his first real job at the young and struggling Sokol Blosser, Gary looked at the growing inventory of wine and immediately knew they had a sales problem with a product that would not sell by word-of-mouth.

Twenty three years later, the Stoller product would definitely sell itself but Mortensen knew volume was the way to overcome the overhead of growing great wine and building the first LEED Gold Certified Winery.  He marched the company through five years of stunning production growth from 9,000 to 41,000 cases.  Mortensen estimates “40% of Oregon wineries are losing money” and asserts, “You need 30,000 cases to be profitable.”  He expects the industry will go through much consolidation in the coming years.

“… the No. 1 winery in Oregon – Most were laughing or scoffing – A few leaned forward – Guess who made the cut… We only want Owners.”

The ratio of engaged to unengaged employees is broadly accepted as correlated with corporate success. Mortensen calls them “Owners and Renters.”  Describing a company strategy session sizing up his new staff at Stoller, he looked for signs of engagement and gave evidence of an impatient preference for those who will make a difference over those who would impede – Engagement is not just important in big companies.

“You have to be disruptive – If you are not disruptive, others are passing you by.”

Only a very astute scholar of people and culture as well as a daring disrupter conceives a plan to combine the public’s appetite for outdoor popular music concerts with a vineyard’s need to move large inventories of not-very-good wine. Mortensen’s unorthodox plan quickly and serially solved the 11-year-inventory-cycle problem while the young winery learned to produce wine the public would seek on its own merits.

Gary also imagined naming a blend of left-over white varietals “Evolution #9” to suggest a Beatles song, tapping into the same popular music culture and making that barrel-cleanup a best seller year after year? – “I wish I had asked for royalties on that one”, he laments.

Readers have been kept wondering about the “Satellite Stalking” bit.  Those with young adult children may remember the “Big Bang Theory” episode when Harold and Raj reposition a government satellite to help them find the address where the contestants in America’s Next Top Model are staying? – This popular TV program episode concept may have come from Gary Mortensen. – Gary shared an account of a visit during his IT years to a secure government facility.  His efforts to connect with and understand his government clients were so effective that, before he knew it, they were showing him satellite imagery of a European city that they were using to shop for real estate near the home of their favorite Rock music icon.

In Gary’s Linkedin Summary he writes, As a historian, I believe it’s also about how we remember and learn from those who have gone before us.”  Indeed, it would appear in his passion for history and in his leadership he reveals himself as a student of human beings. – Throughout the evening, Mortensen’s tale gave evidence of the success that comes from understanding people and fluidly transferring that understanding to practical, leadership application.


May Board Message – Communications Committee Chair

I open my address to you with an apology for the mysterious anonymity.  The Chair-of-Communicationsextensive regulation of my industry places oversight and record-keeping responsibilities upon firms for broad distributions and social media that would impair my ability to reach you in a timely manner.  So, for the foreseeable future, my e-mails to our membership and occasional ACG Portland Blog posts will be faceless, nameless offerings, “from the Chair of the Communications Committee”.  We can at least chuckle at the irony.

I first became acquainted with ACG on the east coast in the mid-1990s finding it a wonderful means for knowing and being involved with the broad business community.  At the time I was a founding shareholder and President of an independent commercial finance company serving small to middle-market, rapidly growing businesses. Activating a company succession plan and pursuing a different environment for my family, I moved to Portland in 2006.  My positive experience with ACG back east naturally turned me to the organization to engage and learn about business in my new home. I am in a very different part of the financial industry now and I am involved more than ever with ACG.

ACG Portland enjoys a talented, diverse and activist Board of Directors.  In the board’s quest to meaningfully enhance value to members, sponsors, and community, it has demonstrated a remarkable openness to experimentation and change.  All recognized the importance of getting out the word of positive changes and in January of this year, The Communications Committee was launched.

In its infancy, the new committee has just three new members.  We have commenced a program of regular blog posts to recap presentations by CEOs and other notable business speakers at our monthly Peer Growth events and we are exploring expanded use of social media, community outreach, and website functionality to better reach you and other business leaders.

One of our agenda items for this series from the committee chairs is to share an amusing or different thing about our experience with the chapter.  When I first joined the board in January of 2015, we were planning an event to feature three of the early chapter leaders, Cordell Berge, Lee Koehn and Spencer Brown.  I suggested effort to produce an amateur video featuring each of the three that we could use to promote the event.  It worked!  It was a fun project, the video was amusing and effective, and I came to know three terrific business leaders I know I can turn to when I need them.

I strongly believe that membership offers its greatest rewards through involvement.  As human beings, we come to understand and trust each other most quickly and deeply when we are engaged with each other to common, valuable purpose.  If you share that belief or would like to explore it, if you have expertise and/or interest in Marketing and Communications, I encourage you to become involved by joining our committee.   We meet once monthly for 60 to 90 minutes and members should expect to invest another three hours per month on committee activities. Please contact any board member to learn my name and reach me.  I look forward to working with you.

ACG Portland Elects 2016 President, New Board Members

ACG Portland Elects 2016 President, New Board Members

Association elects Dave Porter as president; adds Mike Cooney, John Cochran and Gina Kaveny as board members

Portland, Ore., January 20, 2016—The Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) Portland, a global association for professionals involved in corporate growth, professional development and business networking, today announced the election of Dave Porter (Geffen Mesher) as president, and adds Mike Cooney (Red Zone HR Solutions), John Cochran (Executive Forum) and Gina Kaveny (LSQ Funding) as new board members for 2016. ACG Portland consists of more than 120 Portland C-level executives, emerging leaders and business owners of growth-oriented companies and related service professionals.

“Dave Porter has been a key contributor to ACG Portland’s growing success for many years. Bringing on Gina, Mike and John also further strengthens our board’s leadership and business acumen. These accomplished professionals will advance our mission to be one of the most valuable executive networking and professional development groups in Oregon,” says Casey Boggs, president of LT Public Relations and ACG Portland’s 2015 president.

Dave Porter

Porter is a partner in the CPA firm Geffen Mesher & Company.  Having served clients for half of his career and being a client the other half has helped Dave understand the value CPAs can provide their clients.  He has learned to listen carefully and offer real solutions to real business problems.  He also helps companies develop stronger internal controls to mitigate risks associated with white collar crime. He earned his Certified Fraud Examiner designation from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, as well as his Oregon private investigator’s license.

John Cochran

John Cochran is president and owner of Executive Forum, a Portland based leadership development company specializing in soft skill development characteristic of strong leadership at all levels of an organization.

 Mike Cooney

Cooney is the founder and president of Red Zone HR Solutions, which provides HR management services to small and mid-sized businesses and organizations. Mike has more than 20 years in human resource leadership positions in manufacturing, technology, and forest products including serving as the VP of HR for Digimarc Corporation.

Gina Kaveny

Kaveny has worked in supply chain for the more than 18 years, with a specialty to help companies grow and expand their business internationally. She spent 13 years with UPS and UPS Capital working with companies to expand and finance their international sales channels. Gina moved to LSQ Funding in 2013 to extend her reach, offering more companies access to working capital.

About ACG Portland

Members of ACG Portland are business owners, emerging leaders, CEOs, CFOs, COOs, and EVPs of mid-market growing corporations, as well as members of the professional services companies that serve them, such as private equity firms, banks, attorneys and accountants. More information is available at www.acgportland.org.