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The wine sellers: Opici, a fourth-generation wholesaler and distributor, always has been ahead of its time on gender equity

Dina Opici, president, Opici Family Distributing.
Dina Opici, president, Opici Family Distributing. - ()

Dina Opici said her grandparents' story is inspirational — just not one she is looking to emulate exactly.

“My grandfather (Hubert Opici) worked every day with my grandmother (Rose Opici) for the 65 years that they were married,” Opici said. “I adore my husband, but to work, travel and negotiate with the same party 24 hours a day is something I think is very unique.”

Also rare is the way the 75-year-old, fourth-generation wine and spirits wholesaler and distributor always has embraced gender equality in a male-dominated industry.

“I never saw any difference between my grandmother and the men in the room,” Opici said. “And when I entered the business, I felt the same way.”

Opici, president of Opici Family Distributing, and her younger brother, Don Opici, managing director of Opici Wines, continue to develop and expand the Opici Wine Group in Glen Rock just as their great-grandparents and grandparents had.

“Relationships are the backbone of our business,” Dina Opici said. “(They) built this business by going out to dinner with their customers and their friends.”

So when Opici joined the family-oriented operation in 1998 — without a desk, a phone or even a set job — her family knew she would be a valuable part of the company.

Family-owned businesses
According to Dina Opici, president of Opici Family Distributing in Glen Rock, only 3 percent of companies survive to become fourth-generation family businesses.
In fact, only 30 percent of businesses even make it to the second generation, due to poor communication, lack of trust or lack of preparation.
“I feel that we are very fortunate to be operating at the fourth-generation and are managing and planning for success,” Opici said.
Still, Opici hired an executive coach in January — “one of the best things I’ve ever done,” she said.
“They are helping me to become a better manager within my family dynamic,” Opici said. “I love my family and I love to be with them outside of the office, but when I get to the office it’s about getting my job done and going home and that is not always seen as friendly.”
The level of family drama, however, has been low, Opici said.
“When you have a situation in which you have five siblings and they have five children and, the next thing you know, you have 35 people, it can become very strenuous on the business,” she said. “But my mother is an only child. To some extent, I think we are fortunate for that.”
Her family and employees continue to do well and thrive within the company’s culture.
For example, her grandfather, Hubert Opici, earned a lifetime achievement “American Wine Legend” award in 2012 and her brother, Don Opici, earned the “Importer of the Year” title in 2014 from Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

They just weren’t sure how.

“It wasn’t like I came in and they said, ‘Here’s your throne and crown.’ I had to dive in head first,” Opici said. “Where I saw things that didn’t make sense to me, I worked in that department.

“And through that learning experience, we were able to improve a lot of things that we were doing.”

###

Joseph Opici, a second-generation immigrant from Italy, and his wife, Esther Opici, formed the original wine distribution business in Paterson in 1913.

“My great-grandfather did the bottling and my great-grandmother answered the phones and took the orders,” Dina Opici said.

When Prohibition was enacted, they lost everything, she said. Upon its repeal, Joseph Opici asked a friend to send him a $1,500 tank of wine from California to bottle and try to get back into business.

“That is how we are where we are today,” Dina Opici said.

Joseph Opici reorganized the company as the American Beverage Distribution Company in 1934 (in order to be “listed first in the book of all the wholesalers,” Opici said) before traveling to open up Opici Winery in Cucamonga, California, in 1939.

The original Opici wine distribution business began in 1913. The company has grown in offerings ever since.
The original Opici wine distribution business began in 1913. The company has grown in offerings ever since.

“That gave us the ability throughout the war to have consistency of business,” Dina Opici said.

Hubert Opici, Joseph and Esther’s son, took over the business in 1944 and expanded into the New York area via acquisition in 1945.

Over 50 years later, Dina Opici would graduate from Lafayette College and the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law before working for a small law firm of about 20 attorneys.

“While the business was part of our lives, it did not dictate,” Opici said. “I never saw any expectation or request that my mother, a teacher, join the business, so I went through life thinking I would do whatever I wanted.”

Her grandfather was 80 years old at the time. Her grandmother’s half-brother was managing the business, and the rest of the management team was non-family.

That was not the succession plan Opici’s grandfather had had in mind.

“He said to me, ‘So this lawyer thing — is this something you really want to do?’” Opici said. “My grandfather just turned 100 in March, so it was premature to even be asking him what his succession plan was, as he still goes into the office every day.”

Hubert Opici happened to choose his timing wisely. Shortly after he spoke with Dina Opici, the firm that she worked for decided to merge with a firm with over 250 attorneys.

“I already had just a sliver of a life,” Opici said. “I thought maybe it was time to enter my family’s business and see if that was something I wanted to do instead.”

Her family was thrilled — even if they did not know what she could do for the company at first.

“My grandfather said, ‘Well, we figured you would figure out something,’” Opici said. “’We have this (information technology) department, and we don’t know what those guys do — do you want to sit in there and see what they do?’”

Then the man in payroll fell ill.

“My family said, ‘Well, can you come in on Saturday morning to do payroll?’ Luckily, everybody got paid,” Opici said. “It was one crash course after another in figuring out my family’s business.”

Her education would eventually lead Opici to become head of sales, and her brother joined the company seven years after her.

Woman-owned business
Dina Opici is an executive woman working in a male-dominated industry.
Here’s the proof: Opici recently attended an event for all of the owners and senior management of the second-largest wine company in the world.
“There were 50 men there and myself,” she said. “It was a unique position to be in.”
The same thing happened when Opici attended the annual national convention for Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, a lobbyist organization in Washington, D.C.
“There were over 600 people there, and about 35 were women,” she said. “That is the blueprint of our industry.”
Opici worked with others to create and chair a new Women’s Leadership Council in January for WSWA to facilitate women’s engagement and advancement in the industry.
The council held an event in July for rising stars in the industry in which 50 percent of the attendees were women.
“There are a lot more wine makers coming into the industry who are female,” Opici said.
Lastly, Opici wants to address the gender breakdown at her own company.
“Women represent 25 percent of our workforce in New Jersey,” she said. “We are continuing to work toward increasing that representation.”

###

Opici Family Distributing is now a wine and spirits wholesaler for the retail and restaurant industry in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Florida, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

That keeps things exciting, Opici said.

“Not only do the rules differ for each state, but so do our portfolios, our management teams and our style and approach to the markets,” she said. “No day is ever the same.”

The company, which employs nearly 650 — including close to 300 at its Glen Rock and Shamong locations — continues to look different as well.

In addition to Opici Family Distributing, Opici Wines — the company’s national sales and marketing company — now represents not only products that Opici develops and produces, such as LaLuca Prosecco, but also over 50 agency brands such as Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Carpineto and Cesari.

“We feel this piece of the business gives us an edge in what we are doing in the industry,” Opici said. “Our industry, if you look at it five, 10, 15 years ago, it does not look anything the same. It will not look the same two years from now. There are now so many more entries and competitors within each wine and liquor category.”

That’s good for the Opici Wine Group — and perhaps bittersweet news for Opici herself.

“We are looking to expand the business where it makes sense for us to do so across all divisions,” Opici said. “But ‘Lean In’ did a study where, when both spouses are working, women do 41 percent more of the child care and 30 percent more of the home needs.

“Add to that the stress and the pressure of succeeding at work, and it’s cause for concern as to how one achieves work-life balance.”

Opici says there are a few key people that help her to maintain balance as she continues to grow the company.

“I have a nanny who I would be lost without; I have a wonderful husband who supports me in everything that I do, who also works extremely hard and travels a lot; and I have a mother who is extremely supportive and there whenever I need her,” Opici said. “You shouldn’t be afraid of having a village and asking for help.”

Nor should one be embarrassed to make things work however she needs to.

“I brought my daughter to work,” Opici said. “It made my life easier, because I knew where she was and that she was okay.”

The warehouse at Opici Family Distributing.
The warehouse at Opici Family Distributing.

It even helped break the ice during a business meeting, when her infant daughter ran into the room without any clothes.

“I thought, ‘This is great,’” Opici said. “But I am forever bonded with that supplier. They understood. This is my journey, this is how I did things and, from the standpoint of making strategic choices, there is nothing in my business life that could ever exceed the development or well-being of my children.”

Combining business and life has also worked for Opici and her husband.

“You need to make time for fun and carve out personal time as well as for your spouse, family and friends,” she said. “For example, I like to play golf. It started as something that I wanted to do because I wasn’t being invited to meetings.”

Now, Opici and her husband spend three to four hours on the weekends playing golf together.

“We talk to each other, we find out what’s going on — it’s a great opportunity to make sure we give each other time,” she said.

There is one familiar argument that Opici noted, however: Which fourth-generation business will their children, ages 8 and 10, eventually join?

“He asks them all the time, ‘Do you want to sell paper or do you want to sell wine?’” Opici said.

Of course, it is all in jest. However, if the day comes that either of her children do in fact want to join the family business, Opici said she would have done it all over again a little differently.

“If I was going to give our kids any advice, it would be to spend time working outside of the family businesses in that particular industry,” she said. “I would have gone to California or Italy for a year and worked in our industry for somebody else to give me some insight into the things we could be doing better or to learn that we are doing things the best that we can.”

E-mail to: megf@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @megfry3

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