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AICC ELs Treated to Invaluable Insights From Seasoned Professional

By AICC Staff

July 9, 2021


AICC Emerging Leaders sat down virtually with Robert Ruijssenaars, vice president of marketing at E. & J. Gallo Winery, to learn valuable lessons about career growth.

What advice would you have wanted when you were starting out? The AICC Emerging Leaders (ELs) aren’t waiting for hindsight; they are finding answers now. Their inability to come together in person this past year caused them to create the Quarterly C-Suite Webinar Series. They invite leaders from inside and outside of the industry each quarter to offer advice and suggestions to give AICC ELs new perspectives and ideas. Each quarter, a new department is chosen as the focus. Q2 brought Robert Ruijssenaars, vice president of marketing at E. & J. Gallo Winery, to the forefront to share his history, tips to moving up in a family company, and vast experience to nearly 30 ELs.

The event was brought together by the AICC EL delegates, Cassi Malone of Corrugated Supplies Co., Lauren Frisch of Wasatch Container, and Daniel Brettschneider or Kolbus America, with the support of Scott Ellis, Ed.D., of Working Well, who is also an AICC consultant. The webinar began with a short history of Gallo Winery, which is the largest family-owned winery in the world. With more than 7,000 employees worldwide, Gallo Winery has more than 120 different brands and is available in more than 100 countries. Gallo Winery has been selected as one of the top 50 best companies to work for by Glassdoor from 2017 through 2020.

Then, Malone moderated the conversation and introduced questions that participants submitted before and during the event. Ruijssenaars, who has spent his entire professional career at Gallo, encouraged the leaders to be willing to look at their career ladders holistically and understand that a lateral move, like the one he made from sales to marketing, might help them get to where they want to be, focus on their soft skills, and as a young professional, ask questions for the first 90 days, rather than share opinions when they are in a new role.

“The differentiator in my opinion for middle and upper management is not the hard skills. It’s the soft skills,” said Ruijssenaars. “Most people around you will have pretty good hard business skills, just like you have good hard business skills. The differentiator ends up being the soft skills, the ability to think on your feet—make your point, use clear language, and don’t get fancy. Make convincing points.”

He also suggested public-speaking training, to help them become more comfortable and confident when speaking with others.

Ruijssenaars gave concrete examples of effectively communicating as a leader and shared some lessons learned with the ELs. The hour-and-a-half-long conversation also ventured into marketing questions and strategy, with Ruijssenaars giving candid feedback to attendees.

In closing, Malone said, “The goal of these is to do exactly what we just did—have an intimate conversation with an executive in specific areas of expertise, so we can listen to them and hear what it takes to get to that level.”

The Q3 Emerging Leader C-Suite Webinar, Wednesday, September 15, will focus on chief operating officers.

The AICC Emerging Leaders program is an exclusive series of training, networking, and leadership opportunities for ambitious young professionals in the paper and packaging industry. Learn more at

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