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Squashing grapes and feuds: Reo Hatfield named CEO of Prince Michel Vineyard & Winery

Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, Jesus Christ and Reo Hatfield II.

How a boy from Huntington, West Virginia, came to have his name on a list of the greatest acts of forgiveness alongside some of history’s greatest figures is a tale of an age-old Appalachian feud — yes, he is one of those Hatfields — and history-changing big moves.

Hatfield has once again made a big move, leaving TA Services, a Texas-based, multimillion-dollar logistics company where he served as vice president of business development, for Prince Michel, a Madison County vineyard and winery where he has been named president and CEO.

It was Prince Michel owner Kristin Easter who made the eyebrow-raising decision to bring on Hatfield to help carry one of the commonwealth’s oldest and largest wineries into the future. Eyebrow-raising because Hatfield has no prior experience in the wine industry and, more than that, doesn’t drink.

“It is a leap, but the reality is that any business has similarities in lots of ways,” Hatfield told The Daily Progress. “What you have to do is acquire the knowledge of actually running a business and, at the same token, understand the circumstances of business. If you can do that, it doesn’t matter what business it is as long as you operate the company with reasonable standards.”

Hatfield met Easter through his wife. He did some consulting for the winery about five years ago that gave him a taste of what it would be like working in the industry. Now, they are combining Easter’s love for wine with Hatfield’s wealth of management knowledge to lead the company into a new era.

“I’ve been in transportation my whole life, so thought I might as well finish in something else,” said Hatfield. “I thought I could serve this business even greater than there [at TA Services] because it was a million-dollar company and I thought, ‘Well, my goal is to help other companies,’ and I thought I could help them.”

The learning curve isn’t daunting for Hatfield, who brings a realpolitik to the job. His business motto is “Success is never final.”

“Never go into a place thinking you have all the answers,” said Hatfield. “Go into a place thinking you want to answer all your questions. Ever since I’ve arrived all I’ve done is ask why when people say they’ve been doing it this way for years. I want to give everything a fresh look.”

Hatfield considers himself a lifelong learner. He said he’s learned a lot about business since taking his first job at 15. Each individual company “has a little quirk to it,” so the key is to figure out and understand those variations, what works and what doesn’t.

While Hatfield has a few things to learn about his new position, Prince Michel has even more to gain from his years in logistics, his management skills and, perhaps above all, his connections.

As part of his job at TA Services, Hatfield was involved in handling international affairs, he said, allowing him to foster relationships with businesses all over the world — businesses he remains in contact with even after leaving logistics.

He was recently awarded an honor from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Washington, D.C., for the connections he fostered between Waynesboro and a sister city in China.

Those connections and that experience will help bolster business for a winery that is already one of the more well-known and widely distributed in Central Virginia. Prince Michel is familiar to East Coast grocery shoppers as well as motorists traveling between Washington and Charlottesville. While it advertises itself as “situated among the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge,” true of dozens of Virginia wineries, it is far more apt to say Prince Michel is situated off a well-traveled stretch of U.S. 29 with its tasting room fronting the busy highway.

Founded in 1982, two years before the neighboring Monticello American Viticultural Area was christened, Prince Michel was the brainchild of Parisians-turned-Virginians Jean and Sylvian LeDucq. The Le Ducqs had a vision for a winery that married the “high-end craft wines,” as they called them, of viognier, syrah and symbius, with more unique novelty wines, such as peach and chocolate.

Early on it was recognized as the largest winery in Virginia, and while it has been usurped in the intervening years — that title now belongs to Trump — it remains one of the more widely distributed wineries. While pricier Virginia wines coming from the elite Monticello AVA can be difficult to find on shelves outside Central Virginia, Prince Michel can be easily found on shelves from Southside to Northern Virginia and even beyond the commonwealth’s borders.

“This company was built on a great foundation, so all I want to do is try and enhance it and give it more exposure than it has been getting in the past, so we’re going to grow it that way,” said Hatfield. “I believe that we can make a big difference to a lot of places who don’t even know who we are right now.”

Hatfield credits much of his business know-how to lessons learned at an early age.

“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” Hatfield said with a slow drawl permanently tethering him to his Appalachian roots. “My fun in life is working with people and working towards success for the business and to do it with a heart.”

His first job, and one of only a few that didn’t involve trucks, was working at a grocery store in Huntington when he was 15 years old. Hatfield was not bagging groceries for long when he was drafted into the Army and stationed in Korea for three years during the Vietnam War. When he returned home as a 20-year-old, he found an entry-level job at Smith Transfer based out of Staunton.

Hatfield started out there as a typist. Eighteen years later, he was the company’s vice president and the company was the eighth-largest trucking company in the country.

It was already an accomplishment for a man with no formal education in the industry beyond a two-year degree from Marshall University. But Hatfield wasn’t finished.

After leaving Smith, he founded his own company, Reo Distribution, in Waynesboro. He spent the next three decades there, and it’s there where the lessons he learned at the knee of his father, Reo Hatfield Sr., came into play.

“What he taught me was that revenue is one of the most critical parts of running a successful business. You can’t just cut costs, you’ve got to increase revenue,” said Hatfield. “You can do that with the solutions other people bring with them when they come to work for you.”

The elder Hatfield, it may come as a surprise, was a minister. But since he refused to take any compensation for his ministerial work, he also worked full-time as a director of sales for Century Oil.

Like his father, Hatfield has never been satisfied working just one job. On top of his other duties, Hatfield served 25 years as a member of the Waynesboro auxiliary police force and two separate terms as a councilman and vice mayor for the city.

It was his father’s balance between faith and finances that shaped how the younger Hatfield grew to see management.

“You’ve got to run a business with a heart.” That’s what Hatfield said was one of his father’s most valuable lessons.

Hatfield said he prefers to bring everyone to the table to hash out ideas and solutions, rather than issuing edicts.

It’s that sort of diplomacy that put Hatfield on national TV in 2003, when he signed a truce with Bo and Ron McCoy, formally ending the 140-year-old feud between their respective families that had lasted so long and cost so many lives that it’s become shorthand for the very idea of a family feud.

Hatfield said he considers it one of the proudest moments of his career “because it wasn’t done for anything.”

That career of his will come to an end eventually, and it will come to an end at Prince Michel, Hatfield said. But that end won’t come for a while yet, he added.

Hatfield is already eager to capitalize off the recent recognition of the Monticello wine country as “Wine Region of the Year” by Wine Enthusiast magazine. Hatfield said he is looking forward to collaborating with Prince Michel’s other new hire, winemaker Bryan Jones, who spent a decade as chief winemaker at Lovers Leap Vineyards in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.

There are a lot of big moves happening at Prince Michel.

Another one? The teetotaler Hatfield admitted he sampled this year’s Decadence Chocolate wine. “It was pretty good,” he said.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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