Life at Breakthru

Executing a Career Plan Towards Leadership: Breakthru’s Katherine Roque

Breakthru's Katherine Roque

Apr. 26, 2021

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

At Breakthru, one of our core objectives is to build a diverse group of associates, one that is reflective of the various customers and communities we serve. Assembling a team rich with varied perspectives and experiences allows us to thoughtfully, and effectively, serve our various stakeholders.

For the last 12 years, Breakthru, in partnership with Brown-Forman and Diageo, have set out to make this talent goal a successful one through the Sales Management Development Program (SMDP).

The SMDP is designed to recruit, train, and develop diverse sales-focused talent from a variety of top colleges and universities, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Latinx-serving colleges and universities. The program runs for three or four years, depending on the associate’s progress, and prepares them for first-tier management roles.

“To date, we have placed more than 30 graduates in management positions with Breakthru or our supplier partners,” said Stephanie Merritt, Manager, Talent Acquisition – Early Career, Breakthru Beverage Group. “We hire these associates to be future leaders.”

The SMDP caught Katherine Roque’s attention during her senior year at Florida International University. The opportunity to apply for a management-track program was right in line with her career ambitions, and the alcohol industry just happened to be on her short list.

“I was introduced to Stephanie Merritt and Rick Slaughter (Vice President, Business Development, Brown-Forman, Breakthru Beverage Group), and they invited me to interview for the Sales Management Development Program,” said Roque, MDP Sales, Breakthru Florida. “The interview process was a pure depiction of the company — inviting, informative, and exciting.”

Thanks to her passion for becoming a future leader in our industry, along with possessing the skills needed to succeed in sales, Roque earned her place in the SMDP, and her continued passion has been a huge added value to our business in Florida.

We were thrilled to catch up with Roque to learn more about her experience in our Sales Management Development Program. 

Katherine Roque at Old Forester

What is your current assignment and responsibilities in the program? 

Katherine Roque: In addition to my responsibilities as a territory sales representative, our current assignment is to evaluate our Clifton Strengths while forming a partnership with a chosen Breakthru executive to be a mentor. During this exercise, we had the opportunity to explore our strengths while learning to apply them to deepen our sales skills. The SMDP goes the extra mile to invest in our career growth. 

How has your role and responsibilities evolved since you started at Breakthru?

I began my career with Breakthru Beverage as an off-premise sales consultant. Specifically, I handled a territory consisting of more than 35 local grocery and liquor stores. Since then, I’ve worked on two different on-premise territories, consisting of more than 150 restaurants, bars, hotels, and clubs. Our objectives in the market include understanding the customers’ needs, tailoring our products to best serve the account, and offering the best customer service through strong relationships and being creative with how to best serve our accounts. 

Tell us your experience being a member of the SMDP. 

My experience has been everything I can hope for — educational, challenging, and rewarding. We have a wonderful support system from leadership who assist us to run the program. All my SMDP colleagues in other Breakthru markets are equally motivated. We are all constantly expanding our knowledge of the industry. One of my favorite experiences of the SMDP is having the opportunity to network with leadership roles across all departments. 

What has been your most rewarding project?

My most rewarding project has been opening top accounts in our South Florida market. These accounts include numerous restaurants and bars that we worked with diligently over a span of months. Each project consists of a lot of patience, persistence, and team collaborations. The most exciting part is working with different suppliers and local team members, introducing customers to top brands for their cocktail menu, and offering staff trainings. One of my favorite account openings was a high-end restaurant that had an upstairs lounge. In addition to our full Breakthru portfolio, we secured more than 20 Brown-Forman products being included in their beverage program. 

What are some of the biggest challenges you face today in your role, and how are you solving them? 

Our biggest challenge now is learning to adjust and meet customers’ needs during COVID conditions. As Sales Consultants, we must be resources for our customers and provide value to their business. COVID restrictions limit our ability to offer tasting events. Nonetheless, it provides us the opportunity to be creative and maximize our assets. We adapt to these challenges by offering online staff trainings, creating virtual presentations, and utilizing to-go market solutions.

What excites you most about our business and our industry? 

Nothing excites me more than witnessing our industry constantly evolving and growing. With so many enthusiasts creating new brands, it is exhilarating to be a part of these innovations. Regardless of how long you’ve been in the wine and spirits industry, there is always something new to learn. Most of all, I enjoy understanding the story behind every bottle created, sharing it with our consumers, and helping it become the top-selling product in its category. 

What would you tell current students who might be interested in the SMDP about why they should consider us as they explore their first career opportunity after graduation? 

I would recommend college students to consider Breakthru Beverage and the SMDP because it’s the best decision I ever made. This program will fast track your career while providing you with all the tools and resources needed to succeed. You will be taught all about our industry and market sales. Most importantly, you’ll have the support and networking experience from the program, our leadership, and colleagues. Like anything in life, the SMDP is a true representation of “you get out of it what you put into it.”