Meet Jacob Onufrychuk of Breakthru’s ‘Next Gen’ Team

5/13/2019

 

Joining the family business wasn’t always part of Jacob Onufrychuk’s plan.

Far from it, actually.

“I attended Berklee College of Music with the hopes of becoming a professional jazz guitar player,” said Onufrychuk, Breakthru’s Senior Manager, Strategy.

However, when his grandfather Herman Merinoff, co-chairman of Charmer-Sunbelt Group, passed away during those college years, Onufrychuk shifted his thinking.

“After my grandfather died, I decided I wanted to get involved with the company he had spent so much of his life building,” Onufrychuk said. “He was just so important to me.”

In addition to his music studies, Onufrychuk was also taking courses in economics and accounting, which he “found surprisingly very engaging.” These business skills were the building blocks for his career in the family business, which began in 2013 as a National Retail Analyst.

In the first edition of this “Next Gen” series—which spotlights the young stewards of our founding companies, Charmer Sunbelt and Wirtz Beverage Group—Onufrychuk shares his Breakthru story. 

 

What were your early memories of the family business?

Jacob Onufrychuk: I grew up in Virginia and when we would drive up to visit my grandfather, Herman Merinoff, in New York, it was like visiting a different world. He almost always wore a suit and tie and lived in a grand old house with a big library. I thought he was the smartest person alive. There would be wine and some spirits during family holiday celebrations and it was always consumed in the context of engaging conversation. All of that really made an impression on me.

What are some of the key lessons you’ve learned over the years?

Probably the most important lesson I’ve learned in business and in life is that the only constant is change. Everyone knows this intellectually, but we all to some degree have a natural and deep-seated human desire for consistency and predictability. Reasonable people can have different views as to the ways in which something will change and how quickly, but instinctively clinging to the past or present is like playing a game of tug of war with a gorilla. You’re probably going to lose, and you’ll get a nasty rope burn in the process. 

What does it mean to you to be a part of the Breakthru family?

I think a lot about the role that this company plays in so many lives. We have more than 7,000 associates and many of those people are supporting families. We provide a critical service to our customer and supplier partners, and all the people employed by those businesses need us to operate well for them to support their families, and so on. And of course, our work and the products we sell enable so many special moments in the lives of consumers. There is so much riding on the success of Breakthru and I take the responsibility and moral obligations that we have to all of those people very seriously.

Charlie Merinoff and Jacob Onufrychuk with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker 

What are you most excited about regarding the future of Breakthru?

I’m very hopeful that we’ll be able to crack the code around how to enable sales reps to spend more time selling and working with accounts to improve their business. How can we reduce the amount of time that sales reps spend doing mundane tasks? I think that part of that shift will be enabled by technology, but the focus shouldn’t be about the technology. The exciting and transformative part of that evolution is the new ways of working that the technology enables. 

One of the more interesting drivers of change that I see in the industry and world more broadly is the atomization of the consumer into smaller and more specific tribes. The digital transformation of our society has enabled people with more niche interests to find like-minded people and explore their passions in greater depth. I think that’s absolutely been a driver behind the growth of craft beer and spirits brands, but the impact is broader than that.

Describe your current responsibilities at Breakthru. 

I work for the Strategy group, which is basically a small internal consulting team. We work on projects ranging from traditional corporate strategy projects to helping build supplier pitches. It’s very energizing work because I get to work with very smart, high-caliber people on unique projects that are vital to the success of our organization. 

What is our strategy to effectively compete today and into the future? 

We have been and will continue to be a very supplier-centric company. There are many other things we do to operate a business and we need to do them well, but the supplier must be at the center of our strategic vision at all times. Everything else flows from that.

Tell us about your hobbies outside of work. 

Most of my time outside of work is spent with my wife and two kids, but about a year ago I started running and I just completed my first marathon. I’m going to be doing another one in the fall and I’m playing around with the idea of doing even longer races in 2020. Seeing some of these people doing these crazy 50- or 100-mile races is just amazing to me and I want to find the outer limits of what my legs are capable of. 

I also work with an organization the does fundraising for UNFPA, an organization focused on women’s health and rights across the world. There are such exciting stories and data around the direct and indirect impacts of focusing on women’s health, wellbeing, and rights.

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