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By MARC LUTZ
Business Journal Editor
LODI — Spend just a short time with Wendy Brannen, executive director of the Lodi Wine Commission, and it’s evident she’s perfect for the job.
In her time with the commission, Brannen has worked to promote Lodi Wines and to work with growers in an industry that’s constantly evolving. Changing trends, like mechanized harvesting and popular varietals are topics Brannen and her team are working to educate others about.
Brannen’s career has led her to seven different states and nine different cities. She was even a news anchor in Jacksonville, Florida — a job which has aided her greatly for public appearances.
As the grape harvest winded down, the Central Valley Business Journal spoke with Brannen and her leadership of the face of Lodi’s wines after almost one year.
CVBJ: What drew you to Lodi?
WB: I actually was recruited for this job. It was somewhat of a surprise to myself that the opportunity manifested, as I was happy and enjoying life in (Washington, D.C.) and my job there, but when I was approached about this opportunity, I will say I was hesitant and had not planned to move. As I talked to the recruiter and started reading more about the position. I found it intriguing. Then I came out and met the people here, and that sealed my curiosity.
CVBJ: What was your upbringing like?
WB: I loved where I was brought up. Statesboro was right in from Savannah, Georgia, so it’s a coastal region, it’s a university town. I’ve always found that advantageous. When you grow up in a university town, there is diversity and culture. You’re exposed to many different things and people and backgrounds. I found that through the years to be accepting of people, and unafraid of moving and new adventures. Certainly, the move (to Lodi) would be a good example of that because a cross-country move is for real. I think this is my seventh state, so I’ve done a fair amount of moving.
I really did want to pursue this opportunity, and saw a lot of merit and potential in Lodi and what Lodi has been doing.
CVBJ: Have you had any mentors?
WB: I feel like I’ve had fabulous mentors. One of my mentors was in Jacksonville, Florida at a broadcast television station there. I’ve had several iterations in my career, and one of them was a news anchor and reporter in TV. In that industry, you start at the ground up, you roll teleprompter overnight. You work your way up. Eventually, if you so desire, you go on air. That was my desire, and I had a really good mentor who always said, ‘when you become a reporter.’ She was always careful to never let me say, ‘if,’ which was very inspiring. We still stay in touch, and that’s been, gosh, I met her almost 20 years ago. She had a great belief in me.
I’ve had several mentors along the way. In turn, I’ve tried to mentor other people when I see something in them. I think that universal take and give is so important, whether it’s personally or professionally.
CVBJ: What’s been one of the biggest lessons you’ve carried with you through your career?
WB: I’ve been pretty fortunate that my parents instilled a few key values and beliefs in me. One of those has been to be true to myself. I know that sounds rather trite because we hear it often, but whether it’s what you wear or how you talk or who you hang out with or the music you listen to or the career path you seek from one path to the next, you just have to stay true to who you are and believe in your own abilities. And not try to force things along the way. I’ve always strived to do things that bring me joy, and make career decisions based on what, as a person, I feel like I will enjoy, where I’ll be able to help other people and lend some value to the organizations. That’s been my compass.
CVBJ: What’s your leadership style?
WB: (laughs) Evolving. I think that’s one of the important things about being a leader. People often talk about styles and you can get specific. You could read a million books and talk about styles, but, to me, I’ve learned that being adaptable to the situation and staff is important. It’s something on which I’m constantly working.
CVBJ: What’s a goal you have for your time at the Lodi Wine Commission?
WB: Lodi, the past few years, has certainly seen an increase in area tourism that we need to continue to bolster. We’re doing great things to increase our export markets. What I would really like is Lodi to become a more nationally-recognized name. By that, if we can start with just people across the country with having a greater familiarity with where we are, who we are, what we are. Maybe we’re not at the point of driving people on the East Coast to come to Lodi. Maybe we don’t have all of our wines represented across the country yet, but just becoming more of a household name where, ‘hey, I haven’t been there, but I know where it is and what they’re doing out there.’