Mel Dick, senior vice president of Southern Wine and Spirits of America and President of the company's Wine Division, is above all else an unbelievable competitor. Born in Brooklyn in 1936, Mr. Dick's most important childhood hero was the boxing great Sugar Ray Robinson. According to Mr. Dick, Sugar Ray befriended this young fan. Mr. Dick recalls going to Grupp's gym in Manhattan after school to see the champ work out; these visits developed into a close lifelong friendship with the great middleweight champion. Sugar Ray's unquenchable spirit lives on. Explaining his core sales philosophy, Mr. Dick says, "Shoot for the moon, and when you get there, go a little further."
To get started in the wine business, he recalls, "I went for an interview in October 1957. I just got out of the Army and was newly married to Bobbi. At the interview I was told that they were looking for people with experience, which I didn't have. So finally when I realized that I was not going to get the job, I looked at the gentleman and said, 'Please, give me a shot. I know I will do great and, if necessary, I will work for nothing for a month.' Then, Eddie Ongioni, the president of Gambarelli and Davito, a Newark, New Jersey wholesaler/supplier, a division of Italian Swiss Colony wines, decided to give me a chance. I got the job and started at $50-a-week, plus $15-a-week for the car." Then in March 1958, Mr. Dick was hired by Gallo Wine Distributors of New Jersey, and eventually by the E. and J. Gallo Winery, where he worked for 11 years.
Utilizing skills gained as a sales executive with E. and J. Gallo Winery, Mr. Dick was hired by Southern Wine and Spirits of America in 1969 as General Sales Manager-Wine to develop the wine operations of the company. Primarily responsible for the establishment of all aspects of the wine trade-including maintaining relations with both leading domestic and foreign wine suppliers-within the company, he became Vice President-Wine in 1972 and assumed control of organization, sales, marketing, and supplier relations on all aspects of the company's burgeoning wine business. In 1976 he became President of the Wine Division for Southern Wine and Spirits of America, and in 1984 he became an owner of the company. In 1991 he acquired the additional title of Senior Vice President of Southern Wine and Spirits of America.
Mr. Dick is enormously proud that many of Southern Wine and Spirits of America's state general managers first trained under his direction. To this day, he says, "I love to work with the salesmen and managers in the trade and to visit the chains on headquarter visits."
In the early days, Mr. Dick recalls, "I looked for people who didn't have much experience, but who have great drive, who were highly motivated, highly intelligent, and were looking for an opportunity to get ahead." It is still the same today. He says, "I love to hear, 'Give me a shot; I will be great for the company.' We want people who can take care of all their children-meaning their accounts and their suppliers."
From early on, Mr. Dick has always been a firm believer in the team approach at Southern Wine and Spirits of America. He says, "We always tried to avoid a one-man fire department. We tried to cultivate the team approach and a belief that the team gets the job done." Likewise, he believes in another important principle: "Let your managers manage."
Mr. Dick also believes in keeping one's word in all business and personal dealings, with both customers and suppliers. He says, "We treat people the same way we want to be treated, and when you promise to perform on a brand or a program with both quantitative and qualitative goals, we do everything possible to accomplish them. This has built confidence with our customers and suppliers since our beginning."
Mel is the recipient of numerous awards from the wine and spirits industry throughout the world. In 2001 he received the prestigious Legion of Honor, France’s highest honor, for his outstanding contribution to the French wine and champagne, spirits and water industry and was elevated to Officier de la Legion D’Honneur in October 2010.