Robert Mondavi would have celebrated his 100th birthday last week. His name now is synonymous with fine wine. But it was not always that way.
Robert Mondavi was 52 years old when he was unceremoniously ejected from his family's wine business. He had been placed on a terminal "leave of absence." Differences, seemingly irreconcilable, had built walls between family members, between their philosophies of life and business
Mondavi had never looked for a job before. In fact, he had never even thought about a career as being anything other than carrying on the business his father had built.
It's hard to believe now, but at the time Mondavi was facing his mid-career crisis people in America, if they ever drank wine at all, drank jug wine. Beer and whiskey were the alcohols consumed in America. There was no such thing as fine wine-making... or drinking. Mondavi, relatively late in his career, changed all that to introduce Americans to fine wine. The rest is history!
How did Robert Mondavi move through the humiliation of being asked to leave his family's business into becoming the first leading fine wine maker in America?
How did Robert Mondavi bring the art of European great wine making to the Napa Valley, California?
How did Robert Mondavi become the man that educated an entire country about the joy of drinking fine wine?
From my career as CEO of my own executive search firm, I have always been interested in how people find their "right work," work that for all of us makes the difference between a life of meaning and zest and one of boredom and drudgery.
In writing my book, Finding Right Work... Five Steps to a Life You Love, I interviewed Robert Mondavi and interviewed him about the extraordinarily successful transition he made from a seemingly dead end career path to one that has made him a household name.
Forced to rethink his entire direction in life, Robert Mondavi knew that if he were ever going to make a dramatic change, if he were ever going to summon the courage to follow his own star, now was the time to do it.
He literally set up his card table and chair in his back yard every day. He was away from phones, away from distractions, he was on his own and uninterruptable. While certainly the area around his house made for a scenic spot to think, to assess and to evaluate his options, Mondavi was alone.
Robert Mondavi took the journey to right work as a serious commitment. He knew that he didn't want to go back to work that he had done before. He didn't know what work was next, but he trusted the process and sat with a blank notebook, alone and in reflection day after day.
He acknowledged his financial situation, which included a great deal of debt. He acknowledged his need for an "exciting new challenge." He took stock of his skills and talents. He admitted not knowing the answer to the question of what to "do" next. Day by day, he continued to set up his card table and chair to think and to dream. He considered new business options.
Robert Mondavi was searching for right work. He assessed his talents, abilities and skills. He identified his top priorities relative to work. He practiced brutal self-reflection also about his weaknesses and remembered his values.
Something began to happen that parallels what many people discover in self-reflection. He remembered what he loved.
Robert Mondavi found that his mind often returned to his mother's kitchen table where the meals of his youth had been prepared and served. He could almost smell the tomatoes bubbling on the stove, as in his mind's eye, he watched his mother roll out the homemade pasta on the table. Laughter and love filled the kitchen and wine was always at the center of the table. He often thought back on his trips to Europe and the centuries-old wineries he had visited that produced some of the finest wines in the world He began to acknowledge his deep respect and admiration for these winemakers.
Slowly, Mondavi began to feel his passion for wanting to create fine wines in the United States. For him, the making of fine wine itself, became a metaphor for teaching America his family's Italian values: the love they shared for each other and for good food and wine. Perhaps, at some level, he believed that the better the wine, the more sacred the time. He began to realize that making great wine, sharing great wine, and educating people about great wine would be his life's work and was his deep passion
Robert Mondavi also told me about an interesting turn of events that occurred at just about that time. He told me that as he became clearer about his direction, the phones began to ring with friends calling and wanting to invest with him.
Slowly, the alternative ideas fell by the wayside, and the resources he needed appeared. In time, Robert Mondavi began to know, that as painful as it had been to be asked to leave his family's wine business, a new window was opening to his biggest dreams.
Years passed. The business flourished. Robert Mondavi wrote a biographical book called Harvests of Joy: How the Good Life Became Great Business with Paul Chutkow. In it, he outlines his "Fifteen Points" for success in business and in life. I share these with you now.
The rest is history. Robert Mondavi's name is now clearly identified as the man who brought fine wines to America. While as a wine drinker I am very grateful to him for his contribution, it is really the contribution he made to our understanding of how we can all find right work for which I am most grateful.
What if Robert Mondavi had not set up that card table in his vineyard? What if he had not bothered to go within and reflect? Would we still be drinking jug wine???
Happy 100th Birthday, Robert Mondavi!
Thank you for finding your right work and the gifts it gave us all.
We wish you were still here to lift a glass of fine wine with us.
And as Buddha, Gautama Siddhartha, said so long ago:
"Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart give yourself to it"