From Intern to Manager – A Key Accounts Manager Shares her Journey in the Beer Industry

A seven-year veteran in the beer industry shares how she has worked her way from a part-time college intern doing grunt-work at a local beer wholesaler to a key accounts manager with responsibilities in events and marketing at a brewery in an industry traditionally run by the “Old Boys Club.”

What is your job title?
Key Accounts Manager

Would you describe what you do on a typical day?
My typical day consists of making calls to the beer buyers for chain grocery stores on the East Coast as well as the key accounts managers on the beer wholesalers level. My goal is to both maintain relationships and discuss new item placements, beer sets, and programming opportunities.

What is your ethnicity? How has it hurt or helped you?
I am of mixed American (too many ethnicities to count!) and Puerto Rican descent.

How is speaking another language an asset in your field?
Having dual knowledge of both languages (English and Spanish) increases a candidate’s marketability in sales and marketing. Having Spanish as a second fluent language would probably not be too much of a benefit in the beverage industry in the United States because English is almost exclusively spoken in it, but Spanish could help in a myriad of other industries.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
This industry is an Old Boys Club. Coming in as a young Latina professional, I have been often overlooked as too young or inexperienced when I meet new people in the business (the more so on the wholesaler side than on the chain grocery side). I find I need to prove myself, but when I do, I am highly valued by our customers.

What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
Schools today don’t teach proper verbal communication skills; too often, I come across people in sales who may be smart but cannot articulate themselves in the proper manner. Additionally, schools should really be teaching business etiquette courses in terms of proper email and resume writing. Too often, I receive unprofessionally written emails or resumes that are cringeworthy.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
The beverage industry is a sales track that you don’t plan for in college. I majored in political science and policy studies but wanted to stay in my university’s city during the summer between my junior and senior years. When I couldn’t find any paid public services jobs for the summer, I applied as a marketing intern for a local beer wholesaler. I was hired and worked through that summer and during my senior year; when I graduated, I was offered a full-time marketing position.

Seven years later, I have worked my way up the ranks of different companies to get to my current position.

If I could go back and do things differently, I would definitely switch to a business major during college. Although I think that liberal arts degrees are great, a business degree is more practical.

On a good day, when things are going well, what’s happening and what do you like about it?

Most days are good days; I work from home, keep my emails and phone calls in check, and have all my ducks in a row—tasks are completed on time and in an efficient manner.

When everything goes wrong, what’s happening and what do you dislike?

When things go wrong, it is generally because there are last minute tasks given to me by superiors, or there are incompetencies by my co-workers. Folks at my brewery tend to not take responsibility for their actions and like to pass the buck. This tends to stress me out, and I feel like I need to put out fires constantly.

What is your favorite part of your job? What areas do you struggle in or wish you could avoid?
I like the freedom in my job; I am not tied to the same tedious tasks each day, and I get to travel from time to time and meet a lot of wonderful people.

Currently, my struggles involve grasping the new tasks of my new position. This is a relatively new position within our company, and the previous job holder is not of much help when it comes to the transition. I think it is going to take some time for me to grow
within the position and turn around and produce successful results. I am grateful that my company sees this challenge as well.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
Although my job is not terribly stressful, it has its moments, as most jobs do. I do get stressed out when our company is inconsistent with the messages it sends, and the inability to deliver on the marketing programs we promise to our customers. Additionally, there are several times a year when traveling picks up, and I get stressed out about being away from home so much.

I insist on maintaining a healthy work-life balance. When I am finished working for the day, I keep tabs on emails through my Blackberry but do not respond unless there is a dire emergency. The same goes for weekends.

In my personal life, I have plenty of time to stay active in my community and spend quality time with my family.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
Currently, I receive $75K for my position. I would have liked this to have been more in the $80K range.

What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?
Prior to receiving this promotion, I was responsible for setting up a major event in Lake Placid, NY. It was the first time this event was ever held, and the bar was set high. I worked my tail off from September 2010 to March 2011 to get the event set up and in place, and the event was a complete success! I received great praise from my superiors.

I am most proud of being able to tackle the work of multiple positions at one time. At the end of 2010, I was doing the work of three different positions, all successfully. It was gratifying to hear from the bosses at the company that they recognized the hard work that I put in.

What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
The most challenging moment came in early 2009. I had just taken over the New Hampshire territory as Market Manager and was on my first visit to the state. During this time period, our major wholesaler in the market was consolidating with another wholesaler, and we were looking to leave our current arrangement, based on poor performance. After interviewing other wholesalers, and with the direction of my direct supervisor, I was told to go into my first meeting EVER with our wholesaler and tell them of our termination. Of course, this did not go over well.

Later that afternoon, I received a call from my supervisor who said: “Oops, we decided not to switch after all.” I then had to again face the same wholesaler with egg on my face, and I, personally, came off as a dumb, young girl who didn’t know what she was doing, despite all of the incompetence coming from above.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
A bachelor’s degree is a must. You need to have amazing people skills – you need to know how to talk to anyone, and not be afraid of the cold call (although cold calling is rare). Common sense is a must, and you have to KNOW about good, high-quality beer.

This field is VERY old boys network. To move up and within, you need to be a part of the industry. It’s difficult to get hired without beverage industry experience. So, if you don’t start out at the bottom, it’s sometimes difficult to get a shot at a position within a brewery.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
Know your beers! Find a way into the beverage business, even if it’s part-time work at a high-end beer bar or beer store. Even better is to find work at the wholesale level, and then move up the ranks.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I receive three weeks vacation a year. It’s never enough. But this isn’t a reflection of my company; it’s a reflection of the US work culture in general.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
In five years, I would love to be the brand manager at my company and help turn around completely our marketing department.

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