When Lou Applebaum was in his first year of business school, a presenter who worked at a small wine company in Canandaigua gave such an energetic and exciting talk on the business that Applebaum got a clear vision of his professional future.
"I thought, ‘I’ve got to find my way into that company,’" he says.
Applebaum held tight to that goal and at age 39 is senior vice president for strategy and development at Victor-based Constellation Brands Inc.
Canandaigua Wine Co., the small firm he heard about decades ago, is now a $3 billion alcoholic beverage company with wine offerings such as Robert Mondavi Brands, Clos du Bois, Blackstone, Estancia and Arbor Mist, as well as Svedka vodka and Black Velvet Canadian whiskey.
Applebaum oversees the corporate strategy, focuses on commercial aspects of mergers and acquisitions, and identifies geographic expansion opportunities.
Over the course of his career, Applebaum has led six major product launches at the firm, led the development of two television commercials, negotiated numerous license agreements and participated in dozens of acquisition evaluations and recommendations.
"It’s exactly the job I wanted," he says.
Applebaum grew up in Buffalo. After high school, he attended the University of Rochester for his undergraduate degree, also hoping to obtain an MBA from its Simon Graduate School of Business Administration.
He received his bachelor of science degree in economics from UR in 1994 and immediately entered the Simon School, where he graduated with an MBA in marketing and finance a year later.
While he was at the Simon School, Applebaum landed the sole, coveted internship at Canandaigua Wine. He worked as a research analyst and continued there in the role after graduation. Applebaum then moved into category management and marketing for the company and spent a majority of his time working in the Southwest and on the West Coast.
After six years with Canandaigua Wine, Applebaum opted for a change and took a job at the Tiffen Co., a camera optics and accessories specialist.
Following a brief stint there, Applebaum went to Bausch & Lomb Inc. as the senior marketing manager for contact lenses.
The medical goods field was a draw for Applebaum because it was a chance to work in a new area. It also was a family connection of sorts because his father and uncle were opticians.
Lisa Fawcett, vice president of global marketing at CooperVision Inc., worked with Applebaum at Bausch & Lomb in 2001, and the two have remained friends.
Fawcett says Applebaum embodies many characteristics that make him a strong leader but is especially gifted in being able to keep a level head when addressing difficult situations and to generate enthusiasm for important initiatives.
"What contributes to Lou’s success is his analytical skills that allow him to make fact-based decisions as well as his drive for understanding," Fawcett says. "Lou was known for digging out the true understanding in a given situation."
What she admires most about Applebaum is his ability to take measured risks.
"He is smart enough not to bet the farm but savvy enough to know business as usual doesn’t lead to extraordinary results," Fawcett says.
Back to wine
Applebaum returned to his business roots at Constellation Brands in 2004 as the vice president of business development. The move came at the urging of Paul Hetterich, Constellation Brands’ executive vice president of business development and corporate strategy, who is Applebaum’s direct superior.
Hetterich, who also worked with Applebaum during his previous stint at Canandaigua Wine, describes him as a jack of all trades, leading the company’s strategy efforts, working on many commercial aspects of sales and marketing in business development, and being involved in many other projects.
Applebaum’s business success comes from sales and marketing experience early in his career, coupled with his analytical ability and financial acumen, Hetterich says.
"Being in his current staff function requires a tremendous amount of collaboration and facilitation of various groups, and Lou has a personality style which is a great fit for this," Hetterich says.
He refers to Applebaum as Constellation Brands’ resident social director.
"He loves a wine-tasting gathering and bringing people together," Hetterich says.
Applebaum was promoted to his current position at Constellation Brands in 2007. In it he focuses on creating a cohesive vision throughout Constellation’s various brands and business units. He has to mix with a variety of groups, from the company’s board to staffers in investor relations.
"Our job in strategy is to look at the company’s goals and figure out how to get there," he says.
In 2010, Constellation’s leadership team, including Applebaum, came together to explore its brand-building strategy, which resulted in the creation of "centers of excellence."
The centers, which are among Applebaum’s key areas, focus on six areas that help Constellation Brands differentiate itself from competitors. They include new product development, wine education, digital marketing, and pricing and promotional efficiencies.
The best part of the job is the opportunity to interact with all the different businesses across Constellation Brands, Applebaum says.
He also enjoys the growing wine industry, noting that each year more millennials of legal age-those born since 1980-are choosing wine over other alcoholic beverages. They do, however, like to try different varieties and often are not tied to a certain brand.
"People love to be promiscuous in their wine experience," he says.
That means Constellation Brands must maintain a balance between adding new offerings and keeping current brands relevant.
For Applebaum, that is one of the challenges of his job, and he constantly works to introduce new brands to entice consumers. Constellation Brands launched 20 new products in 2010, including the Dreaming Tree, a line of wines that Constellation Brands developed with Grammy Award-winning musician Dave Matthews.
Travel on tap
Applebaum’s job has him traveling roughly a quarter of his time.
When in town, he begins his days early-around 5 a.m.-working out at Constellation Brands’ on-site gym, then heads to his desk on the top floor around 7:30 a.m. to work with local staffers and executives, as well as Constellation employees in other parts of the world, making sure everyone is on the same page.
He goes home around 6 p.m. for dinner with his family.
His travel schedule depends on what projects the company is pursuing. In 2011, for example, he traveled more, going to China three times in the past several months as the company looks for opportunities to build its business there. The recent acquisition of Ruffino S.r.l. took Applebaum to Italy a few times, as did business in Toronto and California.
Balancing the travel and work of a global business with a young family can be a challenge, but it is doable, he says.
Applebaum developed elements of his business style by drawing on traits from a few role models. They include the late Marvin Sands, the company’s former chairman and CEO, who was a savvy businessman and a philanthropist, he says.
Applebaum first spoke with Sands when he was an intern. Sands was personable, asking Applebaum what he was working on. Applebaum replied but did not know it was the company owner he was speaking with until later.
Then he was struck by Sands’ down-to-earth nature.
"He seemed truly interested in what I was doing," recalls Applebaum.
Later in his career at Constellation Brands, Applebaum would interact with Sands again on a matter related to pricing a whiskey in the Pennsylvania market. Although it was a small part of the overall business, Sands knew price comparisons in the region and offered advice on how to "sweep the pennies."
Another mentor is Ronald Schmidt, one of Applebaum’s Simon School professors. Schmidt’s teaching style inspired Applebaum to get interested in and excited about business strategy, he says.
Applebaum enjoys living in the Rochester area, which he says excels in education, health care and the arts. He also likes working for a locally grown firm that is known for giving back to the community.
He lives in Victor with his wife, Julia, son, Ben, 11; and daughter, Hannah, 9.
In his free time, he enjoys sports. He is a skier and snowmobiler in the winter and belongs to a volleyball league in Rochester with college buddies. He also enjoys racquetball and coaches his son’s soccer team.
At Constellation Brands, Applebaum will continue to promote the company products. He keeps a sample of the firm’s latest beverage offerings on display in his office and, at social gatherings, enjoys sampling the choices.
Applebaum even concocted his own drink, the Loutini, using Constellation Brands’ beverages. The drink is two parts Svedka vodka and one part Inniskillin ice wine.
"The goal is to retire having tasted all of Constellation’s products," Applebaum says.
Position: Senior vice president, strategy and business development, Constellation Brands Inc.
Education: B.S. in economics, the University of Rochester, 1994; MBA, marketing and finance, UR’s Simon Graduate School of Business, 1995
Family: Wife Julia; son Ben, 11; daughter Hannah, 9
Activities: volleyball, skiing, snowmobiling, racquetball, soccer coaching
Quote: "People love to be promiscuous in their wine experience."
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