Profiles in HR: Teri Cirillo, VP of HR, Treasury Wine Estates

Teri Cirillo, VP of HR at Treasury Wine Estates, cultivates a potent  HR practice that yields positive results.

By Kathy Gurchiek Feb 1, 2016
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HR Magazine February 2016Clarity, robustness and balance are important for creating an award-winning wine. They also come in handy when leading a human resources department, as Teri Cirillo has learned during her 15 years as an HR leader in the wine industry.

In her current position, which she started in August 2015, she serves as vice president of human resources, Americas, for Treasury Wine Estates in Napa Valley, Calif. She oversees a 16-member HR department that serves 1,200 employees in the U.S. and Canada who support the company’s 10 California wineries and multiple brands. The company has a workforce of more than 3,400 employees worldwide.

The global company, headquartered in Australia, produces several award-winning U.S. wines.

Cirillo’s work has taken her to Verona, Italy, to observe winemaking operations that her team supports and into the vineyards to compete in—and win—a vine-pruning contest.

“I love the wine industry,” she says. “It’s very challenging but also very exciting.” Business challenges—fire, drought, frost and the cyclical nature of agricultural work, as well as attracting and retaining the right talent—come with every harvest.

Another challenge: “Many of our employees are Spanish-speaking only, and many don’t have computers, so we have to communicate in more creative ways,” Cirillo says. Her bilingual HR team makes regular visits to each winery and holds interactive onsite workshops during open enrollment, which is scheduled to take place outside of the fall harvest season. “We manage our HR department in a way that supports the business,” she explains.

Fast Facts

Age: 49

Hometown: Meadow Grove, Neb.

Family: Married with three children, ages 16, 18 and 20.

Celebrity moment: After her youngest son, Andrew, was cast in the movie “In the Radiant City,” scheduled to hit theaters this year, Cirillo filmed a flashback scene in which she runs her hands down his face. “My hands might be famous if they make the cut,” she jokes.

Passionate pursuits: Writing. She is a contributing author to Rethinking Human Resources (Red Letter Publishing, 2015).

Connections: Teri.Cirillo@tweglobal.com.

Company Snapshot

Name: Treasury Wine Estates

Corporate head office: Melbourne, Victoria, in Australia.

U.S. office: Napa Valley, Calif.

Total wineries: 22—10 in Napa Valley, nine in Australia, two in New Zealand and one in Italy.

California property: 47 vineyards planted on 12,000 acres.

Total number of employees worldwide: 3,400.

Wine brands: More than 100 sold in over 70 countries. Its award-winning wines include Beringer, Castello di Gabbiano, Chateau St. Jean, Etude, Lindeman’s, Matua, Penfolds, Pepperjack, Stags’ Leap, Wolf Blass, Wynns Coonawarra Estate and 19 Crimes.

Cases of wine sold annually: 30 million.

Cirillo’s contribution to the company’s bottom line is informed by her vast experience as an HR leader in the wine and spirits industry and draws on her background with start-up, high-performance, turnaround organizations.

During her career, she’s also been fortunate to experience firsthand many of the fun aspects of winemaking. As director of human resources for the Latin America region at wine and spirit maker Brown-Forman—known for such brands as Jack Daniel’s whiskey, Herradura tequila, and Korbel and Sonoma-Cutrer wines—she toured Mexico’s agave fields and participated in a tasting led by a master tequila maker.

She believes strongly in educating employees about the products they make. Many of Treasury’s wineries hold “Thirsty Thursday” events to encourage workers to sample and learn more about its wines.

“It’s an opportunity to feature some of our key brands and introduce our new marketing campaigns with our employees so they can be better brand ambassadors,” says Cirillo, who once incorporated a wine tasting into a post-conference workshop that she led. Nine years later, she ran into attendees who still remembered her presentation.

A popular benefit that Treasury employees receive is a discount at the company wine store and other Napa Valley wineries.

Because promoting employee safety and social responsibility are also top concerns, Cirillo says, Treasury educates its employees about responsible alcohol consumption and promotes the use of designated driver options that are paid for by the company.

Full-Bodied HR

While serving as director of HR for winery operations at Fetzer and Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards, Cirillo led an eight-member HR team during Brown-Forman’s acquisition of Casa Herradura, the Mexico-based tequila company. Among her challenges: making the 1,800 acquired employees who did not speak English feel connected to the U.S. company that now employed them.

“The most critical thing [in mergers and acquisitions] is to be sensitive to what people are going through—even leaders who have been part of the process,” Cirillo says. “Allow those leaders to process what they’re going through so they can lead their team.”

It’s also important for HR to be proactive in communicating with new employees during every phase of the transition. Her team started by pinpointing the values that the old and new companies shared and by celebrating important milestones on the path to integration with events such as a welcome party that brought in key leaders from Amatitan, Mexico. Cirillo’s role in guiding the integration process—which was completed in seven months—earned her the company’s highest leadership award.

Experiences like that have informed Cirillo’s work at Treasury. Two weeks after she joined the company, HR became involved in the purchase of Diageo Chateau and Estates Wines Co. in the Sonoma Valley, with more than 400 employees. Cirillo has made communication a top priority. “It’s critical to communicate whatever you can and continue to update people,” she says. “We’re doing regular town halls for Treasury and other brands we’re acquiring. That way, people are aware of what’s going on.”

Her team also provides avenues for employees to ask questions, which Cirillo encourages even in instances when HR may not have all the answers, and making sure company leaders convey key messages on a consistent basis.

“There’s always so much uncertainty, on both sides,” she points out. “Make sure you don’t create false expectations, and deliver what you promise.”

To be effective in her role, Cirillo has found it essential to understand all facets of the business. This has spurred her to observe operations, literally, from the ground up and to learn the science behind winemaking. Each step in the process—and each employee’s role—is important to achieving a high-quality final product. Some of the company’s wineries have training programs to help their sales teams learn the story behind the bottles of wine they promote and sell.

“It’s critical for employees to understand the value they bring and how their work impacts the final product,” Cirillo says.

Pairing HR with Business

Leadership and training have been recurring themes throughout Cirillo’s HR career. In 2015, she attended a seven-person leadership workshop where she was personally trained by Dr. Srini Pillay of Harvard University, voted one of the “Top 20 Movers and Shakers” in the leadership development field by Training Industry Magazine in 2013. Cirillo plans to pursue her certification in neurocoaching.

“Even if you don’t manage people, you can still lead,” she says. “People can have leadership moments regardless of who they are or their educational level.”

While serving as vice president and director of organization/leadership development and learning at Brown-Forman, Cirillo redesigned the company’s global executive coaching process, increasing its network of coaches by 500 percent and raising satisfaction ratings from coaches during her tenure. She also led the integration of the corporate university, organization and leadership development groups, doubling the services provided. Her efforts to redesign the process of identifying critical business talent within the workforce resulted in a 75 percent reduction in undesired attrition in the first year alone.

As director of HR for Brown-Forman’s Latin America region, Cirillo restructured the marketing group to create new career paths and development opportunities. Today, she continues to serve as a coach and informal mentor to former employees.

“We can really have an impact on taking people’s skills to the next level,” Cirillo says about HR.

“Part of my purpose and mission is to help people discover their talents and gifts and coach them to reach their potential.”

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News. Follow her @SHRMwriter.

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