Rick Tigner (’85)

It’s been said that a good sales person will always have a job.

As is the case with Rick Tigner (’85, marketing) CEO of Jackson Family Wines (better known as the company behind Kendall-Jackson Wines). He gained national attention when he appeared on the CBS television program Undercover Boss.

Tigner chose to attend San Diego State in the early 1980’s because “the school has a great business and marketing department – plus and beautiful campus and campus life.” He chose to major in marketing in order to enhance his innate proficiency in salesmanship and to augment his marketing and management skills.

Shortly before graduating in 1985, Tigner learned one of the most important lessons of his college career. After he accepted his first job offer - a sales position at E. & J. Gallo Winery which was based in his hometown of Modesto, Calif. - he told one of his management professors that he was continuing to interview should something better come along. “The professor schooled me on integrity and commitment,” he recalled. “It was a good lesson I will always remember.”

Rick Tigner

After working for Gallo, Miller Brewing Company and Louis M. Martini, Tigner took a sales position in 1991 with Kendall-Jackson Winery in Santa Rosa, Calif., and, through the years, he rose through the ranks. Eventually, he became the head of the national sales team and was fortunate enough to be recognized and mentored by the winery’s founder, Jess Jackson. Shortly before his death in 2011, Jackson asked him if he thought he was ready to lead the organization. Tigner replied “yes” and was promoted to the company’s president shortly thereafter.

Tigner came to the company after it had already gained great popularity, but the winery owes part of its success to a couple of incidents that were initially perceived as failures. When the Jackson family first began farming grapes in the mid-1970s, they had problems selling them to local wine makers, so they began making wine themselves. It was a risk, but it ended up being a savvy decision.

In 1982, the fermentation process on a batch of chardonnay prematurely stopped, meaning that the sugar stopped converting into alcohol, making the wine slightly sweeter. Jess Jackson decided to sell the wine anyway, labeling it Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay. It became a huge hit with consumers and propelled the company into a household name.

It was because the brand is so well-known that CBS first approached the company in the summer of 2011 to consider doing an episode of Undercover Boss. “We thought it was an interesting opportunity to both share the story of the Jackson Family Wines and give me a new perspective on the company,” recalled Tigner. “Jess used to say that good leaders sometimes have to fly at the 30,000-foot level as well as the 3-foot level. Doing the show let me do just that by engaging with some employees in a way that’s just not possible otherwise.” The show aired in January 2012.