Charlie Bailes: A Peek Inside a 4-Generation Family Business (Ep. #29)

Published on
March 9, 2021
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Building Better Managers Podcast Episode #29: A Peek Inside a 4-Generation Family Business

Charlie Bailes, VP of HR at ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, joins us to look at the advantages of a multi-generational, family-owned business. Topics include workplace culture, hiring & retention, leadership development, and long-term vs short-term priorities.

In this episode:

Meet Charlie:

  • Charles Bailes IV is a 4th generation family member and a top executive running a 9-figure family-owned business. As VP of Human Resources and Internal Distribution of ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, he oversees 126 stores in Florida and over 1,600 employees.
  • He is a husband, a dad of 3, an executive, an entrepreneur, a CrossFitter, a health nut and a lover of going to bed at 8PM – all in that order. He loves meeting new people and having meaningful conversations.
  • His main goal is to inspire others to act to help themselves.

Differences Between A Family Owned Business vs A Corporation or Public ompany?

  • When you work for a family business, you'll often hear that the culture is that of the team members (employees) really do feeling like they are part of the family.
  • Live your mission statement. Most companies don't know their mission statement and then beyond that, most companies don't live by their mission statement.
  • Ours is pretty simple - it's to make every day better for our team members and guests. We have team members in front of the word guests for a reason, because our thought is that if we take care of our team members - if we give them all the tools to succeed - the guest is going to be taken care of. We don't even have to think about it, success is guaranteed at that point.
  • A family business has a commitment to a longer-term view than many corporations. Each generation really takes the responsibility of passing the best possible operation onto the next generation instead of obsessing about short-term profits.

Recruiting & Retaining The Best Talent

  • I actually have a different answer than I'm sure most of the world thinks about retaining talent. We certainly value our team members, and we're going to do everything we can to protect ones that we want to keep.
  • We're a family business that has a family culture, we offer all the great benefits that other companies do - health, 401k, you name it. If you work for us for six-to-nine months, you're probably going to work for us for two or three years or more.
  • If they're not a fit for this culture, people self select. We have a very "Zappos-esque" culture and mentality, that even if someone's really good at their job, if they don't fit in our culture, they probably are not going to stay. We're not really in the "talent retention" business, we're in the "finding the right personalities that fit with our culture, then training and supporting them" business. That way they have the best chance to succeed.
  • Getting applicants to self-select and self-disqualify. We tell our hiring managers and our district managers to have the mentality that you're not trying to "sell the job," you're trying to sell them not to take the job. We're very transparent with our applicants: you're going to be standing all day; you're going to be lifting very heavy cases of wine; here's our culture; here's our mission statement; here's our core values; here's what you're gonna do on the job and it's a lot of it's a lot of grunt work - cash registers, heavy cases, merchandising displays.
  • But the people that end up wanting to work in our stores, they love it. It's an active job where you get to interact with people, so that needs to be part of their DNA from the beginning.

Downloads & Resources

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Check out the ABC Fine Wine & Spirits website here.

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Check out our blog articles on Leadership here.

About Charlie Bailes

Charles Bailes IV is a 4th generation family member and a top executive running a 9-figure family-owned business. As VP of Human Resources and Internal Distribution of ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, he oversees 126 stores in Florida and over 1,600 employees.

He is a husband, a dad of 3, an executive, an entrepreneur, a CrossFitter, a health nut and a lover of going to bed at 8PM – all in that order. He loves meeting new people and having meaningful conversations. His main goal is to inspire others to act to help themselves.

View the episode transcript

Wendy Hanson  0:24  
Thanks for joining me today as we look at the differences between a multi generational family owned business, and what might happen in the corporate world. There are some lessons that we can all learn from each other. So thanks for joining us today. And my guest, Charlie Bailes. One of the lessons that I've learned from the pandemic is to think differently, break the ties to old models, and my belief in the humans ability to be resilient, has certainly strengthened during this time. A quote that came out of my guided meditation this morning by Shunryu Suzuki was in the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities. But in the experts mind, there are a few. I'm excited to talk with my guest today, Charlie Bailes, because he is from a privately owned company in the beverage industry, not the usual kind of person that we interview. But I love that we get an opportunity to learn from a different perspective. So let me tell you a little bit about Charlie. Charlie Bailes. The fourth is a fourth generation family member and top executive running a nine figure family owned business, as VP of human resources and internal distribution of ABC fine wine and spirits. He oversees 126 stores in Florida, and over 1600 employees. Charlie has his MBA from the University of Central Florida. He's passionate about sharing his knowledge and expertise on running a family business crisis management succession planning. We're gonna learn what else he's passionate about today. So welcome, Charlie.

Charlie Bailes  2:08  
Thanks for having me. Wendy. That was a nice intro. I don't know who wrote it. But they're being a little too nice to me.

Wendy Hanson  2:15  
Now, well, we'll see you could you have the opportunity to live up to your intro? I'm sure you will. When when we prep for these podcasts, we often there are things that come out that are so interesting that we don't always expect it's a little bit like coaching, if you have a thought partner, you come up with things that Oh, I didn't realize that that's what that was, you have aha moments. So one of my aha moments, Charlie, is that I'm very curious about you being part of a four generation family owned business. What difference Do you see in being part of a family owned business, versus a corporate enterprise or a public company? What are the differences there?

Charlie Bailes  2:57  
There's a laundry list. But I would say that the one that rises to the top of my thought, is the culture that we have here. So when you work for a family business, you'll often hear that the culture of that business is that the team members, we call our employees, team members here. And there's a reason for that is that they feel like they are part of the family. And, you know, that's not to say that our culture is absolutely perfect. And it's rainbows and unicorns, because families still don't like each other from time to time. And that's completely fine and normal. But at the end of the day, the foundation of that relationship is based on the sense that we are all part of the same family, you know, rolling the boat in the same direction for the same causes. And I think that that's just a superpower that family companies get to have, that you just can't really have with a public company. I mean, when you're public, you have one goal in mind, and that is to, you know, make your shareholders happy. And we all figure out what that means, where we're able to look more long term. Our shareholders are the family. So the family's completely bought in to the long term success. And our team members are part of that. And I think that that's the secret sauce. Interesting, because many companies call their folks team members, you know, we call them people, team members of BetterManager.

Wendy Hanson  4:36  
But there's a difference. It feels like between being a team member and being a team member in a family business.

Charlie Bailes  4:45  
Yeah, I would say so. I mean, our mission statement, most companies don't know their mission statement. And then behind that, most companies don't live by their mission statement. And ours is pretty simple. It's to make everyday celebrations better for our team. members and guests, we have team members in front of the word guests for a reason. Because our thought is that if we take care of our team members, if we give them all the tools to succeed, the guest is going to be taken care of, we don't even have to think about it. That's an afterthought. It's just success is guaranteed at that point, if you take care of your team, that's our mission. That's what we live by. And I would tell you, almost everybody in the company could probably tell you what our mission statement is, and why we have it.

Wendy Hanson  5:28  
I love the celebration part that that makes it feel like something people could could feel good about buying into. Yeah. When we had our initial prep call, Charlie, you stated that the third generation is always thinking about the fourth generation. And I thought, you know, that's a real differentiator from what often happens in companies. Tell me a little bit about the what's the long term, you know, in this situation, like how it's possible to think that long term and have value in that the third is worried about the fourth? And how you see that playing out over time?

Charlie Bailes  6:06  
It's a really good question. And I think that the simple answer is that our third generation, who is my dad, my uncle, a couple of older cousins, we have another family as well, that has ownership, they all just banded together and did the right thing, which is take care of the business and the company and ensure that it's going to be around for the fourth generation and the fifth and more to come. And that's that's a, it's a super simple answer. It's a simple concept to understand. But Whoa, that's a much harder thing to do. And of course, there were rocky times, and there were, it wasn't just the easiest, say, let's just do this, it's because you really have to put all of your pride, all of your personal agendas, everything to the side, and you're doing things for the next generation. And you know, that's been instilled into my current generation, the fourth generation, there's, there's five or six of us that are in the business, that are all working together all get along great. But it hasn't always been like that, of course, we've been through rockier times. And the 26 year old Charlie is much different than the 34 year old Charlie, so that we were able to figure that out, we were able to be trusted by the third generation and they were patient with us, I can certainly speak for myself that, you know, the the amount of patients that it took for them to allow us to mature and figure things out. I don't think I don't think I'd be here without that. But I think that they got that experience, too, that they had to figure out, how are we going to make this business work with all these family members, and it goes back to the foundation of the relationship with everybody, your family, you do what's best for the family. So I think that allows better long term thinking, yeah.

Wendy Hanson  8:03  
And because your family owned business, and you are a family, you don't just get removed from a position or, you know, when you have challenges, it doesn't work the same way as it might work in another organization. What is the family are the board do to to develop people and give them feedback, because it's got to be a little trickier. It may be easier in some ways and more difficult in other ways.

Charlie Bailes  8:29  
You know, it's I look at our, our executive team, which is full of family. And I almost scratched my head going, how in the world did this happen? Because everybody kind of has their own gig. So I run HR, and I run our warehouse, that that's people in logistics to things that I just I like my brother in law, Shawn runs marketing. I don't want to run marketing. I'm not a marketing guy. My brother in law, Chris does all of our real estate. I don't, I'm not real estate guy. My cousin Dave is our VP of purchasing. So he does product and price and merchandising. I am I am not that at all. Our COO who's non-family but his name is Bush. He is the definition of an operations guy like it's just and then and then my dad and Jess, our CEO and our executive VP, this split things so beautifully. You just kind of look at that's our executive team. You just look at them. And then also Chad, who's the other family who's a board member who is part of our beer division, like the dude is so is smarter than a lot of people on this planet when it comes to distilling and just again, product craft, where like we all have our own passions and we don't really bleed into each other's lanes. So everything just works and when when you when you think about the team I just described that all just so two of them married my sisters, like, how does that happen? And, you know, I don't know how I think that our third generation knows what they're doing, and have helped to not push but allow each of us to go the direction that we want. And then they supported us they through training and development and help like ABC paid for my MBA. So that's an investment into me. And during while I was getting my MBA, I was in store operations. As a result of getting my MBA, I went into human resources. Because the four classes I took in my general MBA that all had to do with HR, I absolutely flourished, and I loved it had I not have done that. I've been supported by ABC, it's getting my MBA, who knows, like, what would have happened, I might not have found that all these people things I like doing, it's actually a field called human resources. So you

Wendy Hanson  11:01  
know, when you started all this at 26, and I'm impressed that that people are in the right seats on the bus, you know, there are certain seats that you need and certain talents in this executive team. And it is amazing that most of family members, and they all took a different seat on the bus. But I'm also hearing that, you know, the the company in the family does a lot to help you develop because you're it's not an option. Like let's go find somebody else we need to develop Charlie to have him be able to leave this area. And how many people on your HR team because we're always careful because HR people have not only an MBA, but they've got you know, their certifications, and Sherm and all that so how many people on your team experts, because you have seen employees, that's a lot.

Charlie Bailes  11:50  
There's a vacillates between 20 to 23 in there. And we've got a field presence. So we've got business partners in the field that help oversee areas with district managers. And there's a dynamic duo. Their names are Kelly and Jody, who are my direct reports for HR and we kind of split HR into traditional HR and new school. So like learning and development versus the law, I'll call it. And they are just unbelievable. So that that's why you can put somebody like me who only has four years of experience in HR overseeing HR, because you've got people like Jodi and Kelly and under them just a plethora of individuals too many to name that have the experience and know, you know, law and compliance and safety and OSHA and all the fancy things.

Wendy Hanson  12:38  
The fancy things, the most important things that Yeah, could get you into big trouble, right? If nobody has their eye on that ball. Yeah. You mentioned when we were talking about Richard Branson, that you that Richard Branson, there's a there's something about his approach to training. And, and I did some research on this, and it because for Branson, the best of leaders instinctively understand communication is a two way street. He says, being a good listener is absolutely critical to being a good leader. You have to listen to people on the front line, that's a very virgin trait. Listening enables us to learn from each other from the marketplace. And from the mistake that must be made in order to get anywhere that is original and disruptive. An exceptional company is one that gets all the little details, right. And the people out on the front line. They know when things aren't going right and they know and things need to be improved. And if you listen to them, you can soon improve all those niggly things that can turn an average company into an exceptional company. I thought that was very interesting. And also Branson speaks to what you've already alluded to Charlie, which is first you listen to your people, and then you listen to your customers, because that's where the impact is going to be. Tell me a little bit about why Branson was inspiring to you and why the team members come first even before the customer.

Charlie Bailes  14:08  
Yeah, I mean, he's such a dynamic leader, with, we're really lucky to be able to study some of the things that he's done. And I think the the stories that you hear of him, and when it comes to training his people, especially when you make mistakes, who knows if this store website is true, but if you Google it, you're going to find it. I don't I don't know if it's true, but who cares. So one of his team members made a pretty large mistake. And I'm paraphrasing, not going to go into into specifics, but let's say that the mistake cost $600,000 or reporter puts a microphone in Branson's face and says what are you going to do? The guy just lost $600,000 for you and he said nothing. I just spent $600,000 training him on what not to do. That is that that has resonated so much with me. And in our culture at ABC, I would say that is our culture, because we just don't really fire people. For the sake of doing it. Like, you gotta, you gotta break one of our core values on a big scale. And if you make a mistake, and like, I am guilty of that, I have made that $50,000 mistake, I probably made the $100,000 mistake. But the experience of going through that and actually doing it as opposed to a simulation is completely different. And you're, you're you're training somebody how to do a job, it's kind of like, do you want to fly the flight simulator? Or do you actually want to fly the airplane? Which, which one are you going to? Are you going to learn more doing, and what I, what I think the Branson-esque culture that we bring into our company, is that we empower people, that's one of our three core values empowerment, we don't just have this fancy word and power on the board. It means if you want to go try something, and you screw up, it's all good. Just don't do it again, learn from it. Like you're empowered to figure things out. And I can speak firsthand of that, like I said, so that's, that's where Branson really hits home with me is this idea of training. And failing is a good thing. Well, we know in business that if you don't try things out, and you you have to have a culture that allows failing. And, and in the tech world, we always say fail fast, because you might as well get it over with if you're going to fail and not not keep going at it.

Wendy Hanson  16:42  
Yes. So as as a company that is very, you know, retail oriented, and you've got 126 stores, what's your biggest challenge that you're having in the business right now, Charlie?

Charlie Bailes  16:57  
Oh, man. So the, the retail landscape, it was already changing before COVID. Amazon was already, you know, a really big thing. And Luke delivery was being worked on what COVID did for retail is it just sped everything up by five, seven years, I would say. So just trying to trying to forecast the consumer preference is extremely difficult, especially when you sell a controlled substance like adult beverage, because there are laws in every state has a different law. That's why we are only in Florida. Some of our competitors are in other states, and they have legal teams the size of my HR department to figure all that out. But you know, we're we're just trying to be the omni channel solution to the guests that we're gonna have these big, beautiful stores that have unbelievable selection. But our our delivery method, we've partnered with FedEx, to get same day delivery, we also offer all of the apps, the ships, the instacart, things like that. And, you know, our brick and mortar stores are more of the convenience locations than near the high traffic mall type areas. We certainly have some big stores Don't get me wrong, but we're able to kind of be all things to all people, because we're that family business that can make decisions like, hey, do you want to go to this market? Well, yeah, it's gonna be a different store, we're only going to build, you know, 12,000 square feet instead of two story 15. Okay, let's just change classification. Let's do this. Let's do that. And let's go with that we want to serve as that community. That's how simple decision making can be. When when you don't have these crazy layers. So I mean, I think I think your original question is what's the biggest challenge. And it's just it's forecasting that consumer demand, which is turning extremely tech, heavy and digital and online, which we've, we've got a really good team. So we were able to flip this switch very quickly, right, when COVID it was part of the reason why we're reaping some of the rewards.

Wendy Hanson  19:24  
Well, you're also reaping rewards because you were you're really an essential business, especially in times of COVID. You know, people have you know, there are some businesses that we didn't think would flourish as well and and have just gone crazy. And then there are others that didn't make it at all. So I'm glad you're in that kind of business. And we also talked about, you know, when you're in the retail industry, retaining talent is a big challenge. So what are you when you think about retaining talent? What what keeps people with you?

Charlie Bailes  19:58  
Yeah, that's it. I actually have a different answer than I'm sure most of the world thinks about retaining talent. We certainly value our team members. And we're going to do everything we can to protect ones that we want to keep, which is, which are rather most. Because a lot of people that come work for us, they, they end up self selecting after about six months, if you work for us for six months, six to nine months, you're probably going to work for us for two or three years, we see those stats, and they're in the first couple of months. If you're not in this culture, vibe is not for me, people self select, we have no problem with that. So we we are who we are, we're a family business that has a family culture, we offer all the great benefits that other companies do health 401k, you name it, that's just kind of inborn. Now, people expect that, and I think that's, I think that's fine. I think that's right, people should expect that. But we're not going to, you know, do everything we can to try to save somebody if they don't want to be here, that's kind of our mentality, we have a very awkward call it "Zappos-esque" culture and mentality towards protecting it, that just because someone's really good at their job, if they don't fit in our culture, they're probably not going to be here long term. And we have we take zero offense to that. So you know, I don't I would say that we're not really in the talent retention business, we're in the finding the right personalities that fit with our culture, and then training them on our policies and procedures. So that way they can succeed, not, we need to go hire this person and not have to train them at all, because they're so good. Now we're, that that's not how we look at it.

Wendy Hanson  21:56  
Is there anything that you do during the hiring process, because the fact that it has to be a cultural fit, and you want to make sure that they understand the family owned business? Is there anything that you do differently that you think others may not do to kind of before you start investing all the time and money into an individual?

Charlie Bailes  22:16  
Well, we tell our hiring managers and our district managers, to, you know, have the mentality that you're not trying to sell the job, you're trying to sell them not to take the job. So you know, we're very transparent with our applicants, you're going to be standing all day, you're going to be lifting, very heavy cases of wine. The people who come in our stores, our guests, 95% of them are static, when they walk in, because they see like, wait, this is a liquor store, their stores are just absolutely beautiful. So to sell themselves, but, you know, I would say that that's our difference in the hiring process that we're not really just looking for, you know, a warm body. We're trying to, you know, push people out, like, are you sure you want to come here, here's our culture. Here are, here's our mission statement, here's our core values, here's what you're gonna do on the job. It's a lot of it's a lot of grunt work. It's a lot of cash registers, it's a lot of heavy cases, it's a lot of merchandising displays. And like, let's say that six hours of the day, we have an eight hour shift, you know, so that's, that's gonna be the majority of your time. But I think that people that end up wanting to work in our stores that do become our team members, they love it. It's an active job. You get to interact with people, if you're an A, if you are a I mean, I'm secretly an introvert, I can play extrovert. But if you're not comfortable, be playing an extrovert. You don't want to work in our stores. Because we are in the we we we say we're in the service industry, not the retail industry. Because we're serving our guests. That's great.

Wendy Hanson  24:03  
Yes. And so they kind of separate themselves who if they if it's not the right job for them, but I love that you give them all the facts so that they can you can talk about it in the beginning if it's not going to be a good fit. Yeah.

Charlie Bailes  24:16  

Wendy Hanson  24:17  
you completed your your MBA, and one of the things that you talked about in your organizational behavior class was studying Zappos and Amazon. What what's ABC liquors? Is it more like Amazon or more like Zappos?

Charlie Bailes  24:32  
Certainly more like Zappos. And I think that Amazon should get a lot of credit for when they did purchase Zappos. They let them be who they are. They didn't change the culture. They didn't change anything. I mean, this is a couple years ago, so I don't know how things change as of late, but the the Amazon culture is more about winning, I would say, where the Zappos culture is more about teamwork and collaboration. And that's our culture. You know, we are, our district managers do talk to each other, our regional vice presidents talk to each other, our HR department looks out for purchasing and marketing in our warehouse, like we are all we, we don't really have that silo effect. We're all on the same team, our foundation is that team. And that's, that's kind of the zappone. And way the steel Tony Shay's were, were at Amazon, it's more, well, I'll just say it's, it's just not that it's more about the individual, or the individual team winning, where we just don't have that, if that's your, if that's your Mo, you're not gonna last ABC very long, we will sound wrong, but like, we will find you, you will, like will find that this person is kind of in it for themselves. We're not going to make that work. So, yeah, and then we'll go talk to that individual,

Wendy Hanson  26:08  
and hopefully work with them, and they'll be part of the team and even if they're a family members that are going to need to clean up their act. Yes. Very important piece. Cool. Well, this has been interesting to be able to hear some of the differences between, you know, the the corporate world and what it's like, because many companies talk about themselves as a family. We're a family in this company. But truly being a family in this company, and what what the implications of that are, and I love the thought of every generation looking at the next generation. One quick question, because I was curious about this. The first generation what when were you founded, who started all this real quick, a

Charlie Bailes  26:53  
fan whose name is jack Holloway. He founded it in 1936. And I know you and I are on video. But that picture is our first store in on in on orange Avenue, orange and Wall Street. In 1936, he was working for a cigar manufacturer and said, Hey, we should get into selling liquor now that is legal. And it was more or less told us a dumb idea. So he went did it himself. And then his daughter, Jackie Holloway, married Charles Bailes, Jr. So that's my grandfather. So that's the short version. Okay.

Wendy Hanson  27:34  
It's the beginning of the family legacy. Well, interesting. Yes. Good. Well, awesome. Well, thank you so much, Charlie, for sharing your, your your experience and the and the culture that you have at ABC liquors. And if you're in Florida, keep an eye out for ABC liquors, you could actually go shop there and see if you can feel the kind of culture that Charlie talks about in the values. And if people want to get in touch with you, it's best to check out your LinkedIn profile.

Charlie Bailes  28:08  
Yes, man, that's great. Please, I just I love engaging with people like yourself when they just love having nice conversations. I really appreciate this. And so please reach out to me on LinkedIn, I'd love to hear from anybody. I also have a Twitter profile, just financial see Bailes, we can put that in the notes. And I love to love to hear from anyone.

Wendy Hanson  28:31  
Great, great. Well, maybe you have some questions from people and there's some other family owned businesses around the you might be able to collaborate with. So thank you. We will put all that in the show notes today so that people can reach out to Charlie and wishing you all a wonderful day and keep your eye on the culture. And that's really one of the lessons today, make sure that you have people in the right seat on the bus very important and that we we treat our team members most important first, and then they will treat our guests because we all treat people the way other people treat us. So it's a great lesson for business. So thank you Charlie, for being with me.

Charlie Bailes  29:14  
Thanks, Wendy. I appreciate it.

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