Nam Phu credits his unique background in both finance and sales as one of the main reasons behind his team’s impressive growth. As the Market Manager Off-Premise at Pernod Ricard, Phu combines his experience in finance and operations with his expertise in pricing, processes, and route to market strategies to help add value to the company’s distributors and retailers.

We caught up with him to learn more about lessons in leadership, why he transitioned out of finance, and more.

Nam PhuForceBrands: Tell us a bit about your background and what led you to pursue a career in the beverage industry.
Nam Phu: I am currently the State Manager Off Premise for Connecticut at Pernod Ricard. I have more than 12 years of experience in the spirits and beverage industry. I started as a Sales Account Manager at Coca-Cola Enterprises right after college. It was sheer luck as I was looking to get into the finance industry, but due to the downturn of the economy and 9/11, many financial jobs were not available. As a result, I joined the beverage industry. After working at Coca-Cola, I started working on Wall Street as a financial analyst. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wanted to work for a tangible product that someone can consume, which led me to work for Remy Cointreau USA. After that, I worked in various management financial, operational, and sales roles at Proximo Spirits, Leblon Cachaça, and currently at Pernod Ricard.

FB: What do you find most rewarding about the role you’re in now?
NP: The most rewarding part of my role since I’ve transitioned from finance to sales is being able to contribute my background in finance and operations and leverage my expertise in pricing, processes, and route to market strategies to add value to our distributors and retailers. I bring the full 360 packages to the field, and I find it very rewarding on my part to experience new challenges. I can proudly say that our market is No. 1 in sales growth within our division in the past year after being close to last place. It was a total team effort. It was most rewarding to be able to contribute my valuable background and experiences to help create such great success.

FB: What are some of the challenges you encountered transitioning into the beverage industry from the finance world?
NP: Some of the challenges that I faced coming from the finance world to sales was dealing with coordinating and managing retail samplings, budgeting out POS, and realizing that “feet on the street” create more value to our retail consumers by knowing the business instead of robust and detailed KPI dashboards, excel analytics, or PowerPoint decks. By translating my financial aptitude, I can engage our consumers on an intellectual level by knowing my brands in full and then executing flawlessly by educating our key accounts and retail owners on Pernod’s brands from a sales perspective. As a result, I eliminated the old processes that were done with samplings, and we were the first market in the country to use the data-driven marketing platform PINATA, ForceBrands’ sister company. The results have been phenomenal and the positive feedback has been fantastic from our retailers and distributors.

FB: What are some of the greatest lessons in leadership that you learned from your experience of being a young manager?
NP: To be a great manager, you must learn how to crawl before you can sprint. I observed early on that I tried to run before I crawled, which ended up being a costly move in my career. During my first few months as a senior manager, I decided to challenge the status quo and attempted to change processes. As a result, my “rushing” actions led me to create many mistakes and resulted in my demotion from a high-level manager position due to my “sprinting” decisions. To this day, it has kept me humble and taught me to never repeat those mistakes. Gracefully accepting my own mistakes and learning how to crawl before I can walk, run, and sprint are key to being a great manager so I can assist others with my knowledge and shape everyone around me to become better.

FB: Who are some of your industry mentors who have helped shape your career?
NP: Martin Halmi, former CFO of Remy Cointreau USA and Proximo Spirits; Steve Luttman, former CEO of Leblon Cachaça; Deidre Kiely, former CFO of Leblon Cachaça; Sergio Mendes, Finance Director at Pernod Ricard; and Phyllis Spagnolo, Region Manager at Pernod Ricard. Each of these individuals has been a great mentor and has taught me how to excel in everything I’ve done. They believed in my abilities to become a great leader and innovator in the spirits industry.

FB: What are some milestones or benchmarks you’ve been most proud of achieving?
NP: In my first year transitioning as a manager from finance into sales at Pernod Ricard, we became No. 1 in our division in sales growth over last year with the assistance of the Connecticut team. In 2018, I was recognized as the Finance Manager of the year within my division for creating a sales and pricing program that focused on selling smaller sizes of Absolut Vodka during my tenure in New Jersey with Pernod Ricard.

FB: What excites you most about working in today’s increasingly competitive market? Are there any disruptive trends you foresee taking shape in the immediate future?
NP: My excitement comes from always putting the customer first. After several years in the industry, I recently took a BarSmarts course and a mixology class to better understand the meaning of “spirits” and the hard work that our bartenders put into every cocktail they mix and serve to patrons. It took me some time to understand on-premise cocktail preparation and I was blown away by how bartenders are the pathway to all spirits in bars and restaurants throughout the country. As a result, I spent vigorous days and weeks on learning the craft of creating and educating myself on every spirit category. When you take BarSmarts, you must take a massive 2-hour exam and create three signature cocktails in front of the industry’s best expert. The BarSmarts course made me excited to know how much goes into a cocktail. I am excited to say that I took this experience of cocktail making and learning about the history of all spirits and am now creating a new Off-Premise Sampling program so consumers in retail can also enjoy this fantastic experience through the PINATA platform.

When it comes to some of the disruptive trends I’ve seen, instead of engravings and labeling for the holidays, I believe that off-premise samplings must have a direct connection to our consumers with digital QR (Quick Response) codes for them to take recipes home to create their own cocktails. Consumers are spending more time at home on their phones and laptops, so we must connect with them more digitally, and I’ve noticed that QR cocktail codes have a great impact on that.

FB: What advice do you have for anyone looking to join the beverage industry?
NP: Take the time to learn about their favorite spirit or beverage. For example, my favorite spirit is Avion Tequila Anejo. I’ve taken the time to travel to Mexico to learn about the meaning of tequila from locals. I researched why the name “Avion” emulates the brand, how many months or years it takes to age an Anejo Tequila, and what food will make my taste buds explode to enjoy my Avion cocktails more. From a career perspective, I think if we take the time to learn the origins and meanings of the products, we are able to immerse ourselves in being sales rockstars in the beverage industry. Thereafter, go and sprint for the best position that you see fit to create an immediate impact with your skillset.

Interested in working in the beverage industry? Explore our specialized BevForce division.