To start the conversation with Maggie Henriquez, President and CEO at Krug Champagne, I knew I wanted to ask her about three things: her doctoral dissertation that she’d recently completed, her ideas around mentorship and advising younger colleagues in the wine industry, and her role in the La Transmission / Femmes en Champagne group whose intention is to raise the profile and involvement of women in Champagne.
We did indeed talk about those three topics yet somehow my takeaways by the end were more about three themes of a fundamentally different sort: the cyclical nature and timing of a long-term project, an awareness of mental health both for yourself and your mentees, and the ineffable value of knowing how to weave a narrative together.
“I will tell you the story.” That’s how Henriquez began her reply to each of my questions about the three topics, and that’s where I’d like to begin this two-part mini-series with the leader since 2009 of one of Champagne’s (and wine’s) most recognizable and iconic brands.
Although only the luckiest among us will have Krug in our glasses this holiday season, Henriquez’s insights are widely applicable and universally valuable. Today’s post will consider her perspective on managing and completing a long-term project, with her doctoral dissertation as a case-in-point. The following post will consider her perspective on mentorship (which is informed by a well-hewn sensitivity to mental health) as well as her strategy of storytelling, which she illustrates while discussing La Transmission / Femmes en Champagne.
“No Brain for Anything Else Than to Try to Survive”
An under-the-radar highlight of the year for me in 2020 was reading, and offering some editorial suggestions on, the translation of Henriquez’s doctoral dissertation. She submitted the dissertation successfully in order to finalize the requirements for her doctorate in business administration from the Swiss Management Center.
The doctorate was a long road, chronologically and emotionally. Henriquez had started the program out of a desire to “prepare the next step in my life,” she said, and she thought it “would be good to have another level in my career.” She completed coursework for the degree back in 2007 and 2008 when she was still living and working in Argentina. The work was non-stop, occupying the weekends and late at nights during the week, yet she persevered with high marks. “I see today that I almost didn’t sleep,” she said in reference to those years of work and study.
The next step of the program was writing the thesis but that year, at the end of 2008, Henriquez was called to France for the role at Krug in Reims, in the heart of Champagne. When she arrived, she stepped into a difficult work situation plus she needed to learn to communicate in French, and she realized that she “had no brain for anything else than to try to survive.” She consulted her professor and mentor in Argentina, who fought for the maximum time allowed for her to render her thesis. She was given ten years.
Big Obvious Challenges, Bigger Less Obvious Solutions
“Of course you think that amount of time is huge but time flies, and suddenly I found myself in 2017,” Henriquez said. “I have to start now.” In addition to needing to reignite her motivation for the writing, Henriquez faced two significant uphill battles. First, she learned that her professor and advocate at the university in Argentina had died unexpectedly of a heart attack. And second, the initial feedback to her thesis proposal indicated it leaned too heavily on “business” and wasn’t of significant interest to “the academy.”
Resolving the challenges meant enlisting the help of known colleagues and resources, and it also meant accepting the help of unfamiliar but generous supporters. Henriquez counts her husband among the first group, who gently but not subtly pressured her by saying, “Maggie, you have always finished. You cannot not finish this.” Among the second group, she counts the department administrator (who shepherded her proposal through the right channels in the absence of her original mentor) and her new advisor who said, “Maggie, I will help you. When we received your project, we all said we will help you since it was the will of Juan Carlos [their colleague who had passed away] to see you finish it.” That was the final click for Henriquez to decide that she would go for it.
With the help of her new advisor, Henriquez adapted her proposal to explain why the theories behind luxury brand building do not extend to wine. To test the hypothesis, she interviewed the heads of 22 domaines in Bordeaux and Burgundy ranging from Domaine de la Romanée Conti to Châteaux Margaux, Palmer and Cheval Blanc. With her hypothesis validated through that research and those conversations, Henriquez finished writing the dissertation and successfully completed the doctoral program.
Rhythms to the Storytelling
There are rhythms and cycles to the stories that Henriquez tells, first a push then a lull then a push again. To complete her doctorate, for example, there first had to be a period of intense study, then a period of setting the thesis aside, then again a period of intense study and writing. Her first advisor was a strong, vocal advocate for her work, then there was a “shadow” advocate working behind the scenes, then again there was strong, vocal support as a collective group.
As we’ll see with the next two examples in the following post, those rhythmic cycles continue through her stories around mentorship and mental health, as well as the right timing to launch La Transmission / Femmes en Champagne.
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