Thomas Kane says he could not have scripted a better job opportunity than the one he recently landed at Constellation Brands Inc.
The human resources veteran joined the Victor-based beer, wine and spirits firm in May as executive vice president and chief human resources officer. He replaced Keith Wilson, who retired after 11 years with the company.
During his 27-year career, Kane, 52, has worked in multiple global businesses in a range of industries, from industrial products to government services to consumer hard goods.
In his current role, Kane is in charge of global human resources for the 5,500-employee company. He reports directly to Robert Sands, Constellation Brands’ president and CEO. Since starting the job less than two months ago, Kane has traveled to California, Mexico and Texas for business.
Filling a role that was being vacated by someone retiring-not asked to leave-made for a nice transition, Kane says. Another benefit of the job was coming in at a time when Constellation Brands had just closed a multibillion-dollar deal that gives it a leadership position in the U.S. beer market.
"It was a great time to get plugged in," he says.
Kane was born in northern Pennsylvania and grew up in Conklin, Broome County, a suburb of Binghamton. He was one of four children in a close-knit family.
His parents played a pivotal role in Kane’s beliefs. Jerry Kane was a school psychologist; Kay Kane worked as a special education teacher. He carried their commitment to the humanities field onto the job.
"I enjoy helping people reach their full potential," he says.
He decided to pursue studies in business at SUNY College at Oneonta, where he received his B.S. degree in economics with a minor in communications in 1983.
Kane then was hired as a residential director at SUNY College at Delhi. He enjoyed the job and initially considered making it a career, but less than two years into the job he decided it was not really for him.
Instead of changing jobs, however, Kane did something different. He took some time off and went to Europe by himself, traveling from London to the Greek isles over a six-week period. It was his first time on a plane.
After returning, Kane married his college sweetheart, Annie, and began to consider his next move. He continued working as a residential director to pay for the MBA he was pursing at SUNY Binghamton. He also took a summer internship in human resources with General Electric Co.
He knew the field was one he wanted to pursue.
"That’s when the bells and whistles went off," Kane says.
When the internship ended, Kane wanted to keep his foot in the door at GE and told managers he would work there for free. After four months, it paid off and he was offered a position. While there, he received his MBA in 1987.
Kane worked at GE for more than 15 years. Various promotions moved him to several locations, including Schenectady as well as Massachusetts and West Virginia.
He then moved on to Black & Decker Corp., where he worked for roughly a decade.
His experience in labor relations, as well as his ability to work globally-he has worked throughout Europe, in Australia, China, Germany, Japan and Russia, among other locations-earned Kane a desirable reputation.
In 2010, he took a job with Armstrong World Industries Inc., a flooring and ceiling company in Lancaster, Pa., where the incoming CEO, Matthew Espe, had been a colleague of Kane’s at GE. At Armstrong, Kane served as senior vice president of human resources and government relations.
Espe recruited Kane to Armstrong, citing his expertise as a global thinker and experience working at large, mature corporations. Espe thought Kane would be the perfect person to help lead an initiative at Armstrong focused on performance management, succession planning and career development.
"Given his success at GE and Black & Decker, I was confident he would be a good partner here," Espe says. "Tom is a great guy with lots of energy."
Kane was relishing his human resources leadership role there when an email that had Rochester in the subject line caught his eye. Kane was familiar with the area. Several of his siblings-in-law lived there, and the family often got together for holidays on Keuka Lake.
The email was from a headhunter looking for candidates for a human resources post at Constellation Brands.
"I had never heard of Constellation Brands before, and I wasn’t looking for a job," Kane says.
Still, the location was a draw, and Kane called his brother-in-law to find out about the company and the Sands family. He encouraged Kane to put together his resume and send it.
After meeting with senior managers at Constellation Brands, Kane was sold.
"I didn’t need this job," he says. "I wanted this job."
A second interview led to an offer.
Laid back, open and passionate, Kane talks excitedly about his new job in his office at Constellation headquarters. He has sweeping views that reach to the Finger Lakes.
Kane was attracted to the company, he says, not only because there was family here-he and his wife had considered retiring in the Finger Lakes-but because it was a consumer brand company, similar to Black & Decker, that allowed him to connect with the product the company was selling.
In addition, there was the cachet of working in a beverage alcohol firm, particularly one that had completed a multibillion-dollar acquisition.
In June, Constellation Brands announced it had acquired the U.S. beer business of Grupo Modelo S.A.B. de C.V. from Anheuser-Busch Inbev SA for some $4.75 billion.
The transaction included full ownership of Crown Imports LLC, which gave Constellation complete, independent control of all aspects of the U.S. commercial business; a brewery in Nava, Mexico; an exclusive perpetual brand license in the United States to import, market and sell Corona and the Modelo brands Crown sells; and the freedom to develop brand extensions and innovations for the U.S. market.
The deal will nearly double the sales of the company, enhance its earnings and free cash flow, diversify its profit stream and open new avenues for growth, company leaders have said.
"This business will be a juggernaut, even more so than before," he says of the deal.
Sands says Kane’s experience and skill will be an asset to the business. He describes Kane as down-to-earth and able to work in a fast-paced yet collaborative environment.
"He brings it all to the job," Sands says.
Kane and his family were attracted to the Sands family’s philanthropic efforts. Kane’s wife is active with Oxfam International, a confederation of 17 organizations working in approximately 90 countries to find solutions to poverty and related injustice.
"They realize as an employer what it means to give back," Kane says. "It’s in their blood."
The spirit of giving hit home for Kane in 1986 when he and Annie vacationed at a Club Med resort in Haiti. On their honeymoon, the couple was shocked at the living conditions of many there. It was during a turbulent time, and poverty and squalor were rampant, he recalls.
"We gave about half our clothes away to others that week," Kane says.
It had a lasting impact on the family, which is committed to giving back. So it was a nice bonus that Haiti is also a focus of giving at Constellation Brands.
"It felt a little bit like destiny," Kane says.
Kane is settling into a home in Victor this summer, with his children helping the family move in. He and Annie have two daughters, Catharine, 23, and Kelly, 21, and one son, Kevin, 19.
Kane enjoys outdoor activities, including downhill skiing and fishing. The couple also enjoys traveling to sites around the globe and looks for trips that will immerse them in local culture. For example, one trip led them to pig hunting in Australia.
He also is enjoying the Rochester and Finger Lakes region, attending this year’s Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival and spending some free time in Canandaigua.
The area, as well as the job, has had a positive impact.
"I truly feel like I came home to a place I never lived before," Kane says.
Position: Executive vice president and chief human resources officer, Constellation Brands Inc.
Education: B.S. in economics, SUNY College at Oneonta, 1983; MBA, SUNY Binghamton, 1987
Family: Wife, Annie; daughters Catharine, 23, and Kelly, 21, and son Kevin, 19
Residence: Victor, Ontario County
Activities: Downhill skiing, fishing, traveling
Quote: "I truly feel like I came home to a place I never lived before."
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