Brian Vos grew up in California’s Central Valley, where family wineries dot the landscape and hillside vineyards transition to almond groves and cotton fields.
It’s one of the country’s most productive agricultural regions, and after graduating from Dordt in 1985 and earning his MBA at Purdue University, Vos returned to the valley to begin building a career in the wine industry.
“It was sheer luck, really,” says Vos, explaining how his path led him back to his hometown of Ripon, California. A new graduate, he remembers using his parents’ California home as a base to fly out to interviews across the country, many of them with companies headquartered on the East Coast. He turned down job offers from Oracle and Microsoft, at the time a little-known start-up.
“Maybe that was a mistake,” Vos laughs.
Then an interview fell into his lap: he was invited to sit down with a cohort representing E. & J. Gallo, the world’s largest family-owned winery and largest exporter of California wines. All of Vos’ clothes were at the cleaners, so he showed up in jeans and a T-shirt. They offered him the job.
Vos has spent the past 25 years in the industry, serving in a variety of leadership roles, first at Gallo and later the Wine Group, the world’s third-largest wine producer by volume. In 2012, he assumed the role of Wine Group CEO.
“I wasn’t looking to get into this business, but I’m grateful to be able to do something that allows me to be near family and that gives me the chance to work alongside some great people,” says Vos. He also appreciates the industry’s ties to the land and to the families that make their livelihoods from it.
As CEO of the Wine Group, headquartered in Livermore, California, Vos oversees the production of such well-known brands as Franzia, Cupcake, Corbett Canyon, Cardinal Zin, FishEye, Flipflop, and Almaden.
Although he is often responsible for making strategic decisions at critical moments, Vos stresses that service and collaboration are the most important aspects of his job.
“When people ask me about what I do, I tell them I’m the head janitor; I clean up messes,” he jokes.
Despite this custodial responsibility, his position also requires leadership and vision: “A huge part of the job is making sure you have the right people, and then creating the conditions that allow them to do what they’re good at. It’s about culture, and setting the right tone.”
Vos credits his time as a student at Dordt College with laying the broad foundation of knowledge and skills that allows him to do this work well. Aside from the lessons he learned as a student-athlete on the basketball court, Vos says his business coursework at Dordt made some of his graduate school courses seem like a review. More importantly, Dordt shaped the sort of person and businessman he has become.
“At Dordt,” he says, “there was just enough protection that you developed a sense of confidence in what you knew, in what you were able to do, and in the gifts that God had given to you. You found out when you left there just how well prepared you were. I’m grateful to have that development built right into my DNA.”