Building the People Who Build the Business: Breakthru’s Andy Westley

Jun. 17, 2021

By Kyle Trompeter, Content and Corporate Communications Manager, Breakthru Beverage Group

If you ask Andy Westley what wine means to him, you’ll get a thoughtful response steeped in so much passion you’ll want to immediately go open a bottle to see if you can capture even a fraction of the enthusiasm and reverence he projects when talking about it.

“There is a bit of magic in wine,” said Westley, Senior Director of Learning, Leadership and Sales Solutions (LLS), Breakthru Beverage Group. “Every wine is about four things — the grape, the soil, the climate, and the human element. So, what’s the big deal? Why do people like me spend so much time studying wine? It’s because those four things never combine the same way twice.”

The unpredictability of wine production is truly what separates it from all other beverages.

Most beverages are created to taste the same all the time. Wine is never the same. Each vineyard and vintage are different. Wine is a living thing.
- Andy Westley

We’re incredibly lucky to have someone like Westley, who along with the rest of the LLS team, is responsible for providing learning and selling solutions to our associates so they can have all the tools needed to help them reach their potential. However, when we say someone like Westley, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention there are not many like Westley, who has reached the pinnacle of wine and spirits education certification — more on that in a bit.  

If you really want to know where Westley’s relationship with the world of wine began to grow, you’d have to go all the way back to the beginning.

A Family Tradition

Westley’s heritage is so deeply rooted in the Chicago alcohol scene, you might call them one of the first families of wine around the Windy City.

“I am my family’s fifth generation in the wine business,” Westley said. “My grandfather, Maury Ross, was one of the pioneers of the wine scene and actually put the first wines ever on shelves at Walgreens. I have met hundreds of people who tell me he was the reason they got interested in wine.”

Growing up around a local icon only grew Westley’s love for wine. In college, he figured he would either get into the wine business like his grandfather or become a lawyer. But if you ask Westley’s college classmates if they knew what path he’d pursue after graduation, it would decidedly be the former as Westley was the only student who had a wine rack in his dorm room.

His first sales gig was with Hamburg Distributing in Peoria, Illinois, and he later moved to Chicago in 1993 to work for Chicago Wine Merchants, a fine wine division of Union Liquors — his grandfather’s old stomping grounds.

Over the years, Westley has served in a variety of roles and functions, including Sales Rep, Key Account Manager, District Manager, Brand Manager, Brand Development, Sales Director and more, and that wide-ranging experience is a huge value to our associates because he can teach them what success looks like in nearly every aspect of our business.

Reaching the Top

The Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) is a learning staple in the alcohol industry, with varying levels of certifications aimed at empowering industry pros with the expert knowledge. However, reaching and completing the final level — WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines — is an exercise in commitment and dedication.

“The process to earning your diploma usually takes about two to three years of constant studying and tasting,” Westley said. “I had a lot of help and support along the way from people at Breakthru, as well as with a local study group. We tasted together and helped each other prepare for all the exams.”

To earn your diploma, you must complete this gauntlet:

  • Earn WSET Level 3 Certification
  • Pass five exams covering viticulture and vinification, the wine business, sparkling wine, fortified wine, and then still wines which includes an essay on wine theory and a blind tasting
  • Write final research paper on an assigned topic

With his diploma in hand, Westley is now one of three holders at Breakthru of the expert-level certification, joining Craig Locascio, Director of LLS, Breakthru South Carolina and Bacchus, and Cardene Otsuka, Account Development Specialist, Breakthru Colorado. Westley continues to find the learning element of our business one of the most exciting parts because it’s a never-ending story.

“There is always more to learn, especially regarding the products we sell,” Westley said. “And the ways our business and industry works are always evolving, so I get to teach our people about how to adapt to the constant changes which is a lot of fun.”

Building the People Who Build the Business

Westley and the rest of his colleagues on the LLS team have a simple mantra that perfectly captures their core objective, which is building the people who build the business.

The classes the LLS team teaches cover a variety of subjects, including how to approach a sale from the perspective of the customer and how to harness a good brand story to better sell, among many others. Recently, the team has gone above and beyond in adapting their program to continue delivering essential trainings remotely.

Westley administers a remote-learning session.

“We were lucky in that we started thinking about remote learning even before COVID,” Westley said. “Now we are able to administer our selling classes virtually, which means our associates can better fit these learning sessions into their already busy work schedules.”

Historically, learning sessions were always in person, which can present scheduling and travel challenges. Virtual learning has made the operation more accessible and has also helped better connect the LLS team with associates across the Breakthru footprint.

“Recently, I facilitated a WSET Level 3 Spirits Class with associates from Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Carolina, and Virginia,” Westley said. “It’s an exciting way to teach and learn. Associates can share their local perspectives in a broader setting beyond their own markets.

“One of the things that I love about working with our LLS team is that we are always looking for new ways to add value to our associates at every level of the business. We are a passionate team committed to providing our people with an opportunity to grow and develop, and the solutions we provide help everyone do their jobs more effectively.”

Finding a Balanced Approach for Selling Fine Wine

With the recent launch of Aspect, our fine wine strategy, arming our associates with the tools to thoughtfully approach the world of fine wine sales was an absolute necessity, and Westley and the LLS team were prepared to answer the call.

“When we first started thinking about what our Aspect associates needed to be successful, we realized we needed to find a balanced approach,” Westley said. “First, we knew that it was important that our Aspect associates needed to be very knowledgeable about our brands, and more broadly, fine wine, but they also needed to be very adept at selling.”

Fine wine buyers are extremely knowledgeable, and Aspect associates would need to be able to not only match that wine wisdom, but they would need to be able to consult a specific business through their customer’s eyes.

“Our priority with Aspect is to focus on the needs of our customers so we can establish a deeper and wider footprint with each of them,” Westley said. “We want to establish trust, and serve as a true consultant, and through that, we will add value to their businesses.”

Selling fine wine, Westley noted, is all about fit. Does the wine we are trying to sell fit the overall concept of the business? Does the wine bring value to a wine list, or to an event that a customer is hosting?

“Selling fine wine is like selling puzzle pieces,” Westley said. “You have this beautiful, tiny, puzzle piece that is constructed by hand and made to fit perfectly in a small number of puzzles, like wine lists and retail shelves. Our job is to find the places where the puzzle pieces fit perfectly.”

Teaching our Aspect associates how to complete their puzzles was made possible through a collaboration between the LLS team and our fine wine sales leaders, including Adam Pizer, Vice President, Supplier Development – Wine, Daren Cliff, Senior Director of Fine Wine, and Fritz Stresau, General Manager, Breakthru Florida. The result was a discussion-based curriculum designed to teach our associates how to understand fine wine customers, how to provide them with best-in-class service, how to sell to them, and of course, how to close the deal. The program is modeled like the concepts the LLS team uses with all sales associates, but this time, filtered through the lens of fine wine and the fine wine customer. The first phase of the Aspect training program includes classes such as Eight Steps to a Fine Wine Call and Adapting to Customer Needs and Buyer Types.

“It has been fantastic to facilitate these sessions, and I’m truly impressed with the talented group of associates that will be selling our Aspect portfolio,” Westley said. “The Aspect associates’ expert knowledge of wine plus their unique understanding of the customers they serve is what helps them find the perfect fits for their puzzle pieces. The more we can thoughtfully serve these customers, the more they will call us first when they have an opportunity, and with the amazing team we’ve built to sell our Aspect brands, we are well-positioned to win the fine wine space.” 

Last Call

Throughout the years, if our industry has proven one thing, it is that constant change is inevitable, and to build a successful company, you’ll need a nimble team capable of not only keeping up in the moment, but also one that is forward-thinking, always planning for the future.

Without Andy Westley and his colleagues on the LLS team, we wouldn’t be well-positioned to meet the evolving needs of our customers, supplier partners, as well as consumers, full stop.

Westley performing the National Anthem at the annual Breakthru Winter Hockey Invitational at the United Center. 

It’s also invaluable to have the educators of the company possess a contagious passion for what they teach, which is a trait Westley has in spades. He likes to equate wine to music, which if you are lucky enough to know him, you know he is as passionate about music as he is about wine. He regularly performs at local music venues around Chicago and has even done some events where he talks about the connection between wine and music.

“A song is a simple thing,” Westley said. “It’s about rhythm, chord progression, melody, and lyrics, but those four things never combine in the same way twice. That’s the magic of music.”

Sound familiar?