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When Kendra Thomas thinks about the person she was fifteen years ago, she says she didn’t see herself as a future finance leader. When she first started her career, she was introverted, had a nervous giggle, barely spoke in meetings, and preferred making an impact from the comfort of her desk.
Things started to change as others saw her potential and invested in her, impressed by the way she eagerly took on various roles and projects to learn new sides of the wine business.
“I’ve had several great managers throughout my career that saw my potential and took the time to help me develop my skills and executive presence,” she says. “Managers who pushed me by purposely putting me in front of people to present information. An early manager encouraged me to rehearse multiple times before presenting information and would sit in the back of meeting rooms to make sure I was speaking loudly.
“I also spent time observing other leaders and saw how I could adopt their styles as my own,” she continues. “I appreciated those who had the ability to stay very calm, who could see the larger picture. I was especially thankful to have spent time with well-respected female leaders who didn’t need to be the loudest in the room but could still ask pointed questions that forced others to come to the same conclusion as them.”
Those influences provided a blueprint for Thomas to be the effective leader she is today at Jackson Family Wines, where she serves as vice president of finance and accounting. In that role, she leads with a quiet confidence that helps determine the financial future of one of the few family-owned and operated winery groups of its kind.
Since joining in 2018, Thomas has played a key role in Jackson Family Wines’ success through her work in budgeting, forecasting, and strategizing future vineyard developments. She has also been instrumental in executing strategic M&A planning for important acquisitions and spearheading the implementation of a new cost accounting system that’s helping to shape decisions on investing, pricing, and profit mix.
She and other finance members also help support the company’s sustainability efforts, which include a pledge to cut its carbon footprint in half by 2030 and to become climate positive by 2050. Her favorite thing about that initiative is the way it brought together a diverse set of stakeholders to reach those goals.
“We have representatives from almost every area of the business on our sustainability initiative teams. This allows us to approach these initiatives not only from a sustainability perspective, but also with input from finance members who can provide financial analysis and ensure fiscal responsibility,” she says. “It’s really a source of pride to be part of an organization that actively seeks out opportunities to improve the environment and make a difference in the local communities.”
Before becoming a leader at Jackson, Thomas was one of the few music majors in college to realize their true calling was in finance and accounting. She’d been playing the violin for ten years leading up to her freshmen year at California State University, Stanislaus, intending to be a music teacher. However, by her sophomore year, she was burned out and started taking other classes to help figure out a new plan.
“I took an accounting class and it clicked,” she says. “I realized the business world was going to be something that resonated with me.”
From there, she became a business administration and accounting major and quickly realized that the wine industry was where she wanted to be. She had grown up in a small town in California’s agriculture-focused Central Valley and received more exposure to the business through a summer internship. She came to love everything about it, from the product to the challenging financial realities the wine industry contended with.
“Working in the wine industry is amazing, especially in the northern coast of California, which is surrounded by beautiful vineyards,” she says. “I love spending time in the vineyards. You really develop an appreciation for the land and the efforts of the farming team to ensure that we are able to produce high-quality wines.”
After she graduated, she joined E. & J. Gallo as a corporate accountant, ultimately working her way up to being a finance manager for different areas of the business. In 2018, she joined Jackson and went on to serve as a director of financial planning and analysis, director of cost accounting, and now VP.
Thomas’s advice for young professionals hoping to grow into leaders is to make sure you are always actively seeking out personal and professional growth. “Be open to exploring areas of the business you may not have initially thought of,” she advises. “Not only will you learn different parts of the business, but you’ll meet new leaders and learn from them.”