Leader of the (six) pack
From its roots as a Prohibition Era-ending compromise between teetotalers and free marketeers to an organization with more than $5.5B in revenue, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario has seen a great deal of change in 90 years.
Leading it through the next wave of change is President, CEO and Science grad George Soleas '83, who says that when it comes to reinventing the LCBO, “the opportunities are endless.”
What does the LCBO of, say, 2027 look like?
Our vision is for customers to be able to shop the world and get any product they want from anywhere using our relationships with 86 countries. We plan on offering 17,000 products online by the end of 2017. We will also be introducing a wine gift registry and personalized wine cellars, where you give us a budget and we choose what you should store based on your tastes.
Our customers are loving local right now and we plan to offer a more locally-tailored in-store experience that offers a broader selection of artisanal and craft products from Ontario.
Are younger people a key audience marker?
We’re also listening to our Millennial customers and we will be using more digital technology to serve them better. That means improving our app, using beacon RFIDs to locate our product consultants in store, introducing digital screens and more.
We also see a future with more “retail theatre” where mixologists will be on site putting together cocktails to try. Customer data is another area that is increasingly important and it will enable us to personalize the digital shopping experience, including the convenience of receiving personalized recommendations to your phone.
A robust wine industry, the opening of craft breweries and distilleries – what’s going on in Ontario?
Ontario is home to a thriving beverage alcohol industry and we are seeing world-class, award-winning products being produced right here in our own backyard. Purchasing an Ontario product also comes with a sense of pride in knowing that you are fuelling the local economy. Our local distillers, winemakers and brewers and cideries are extremely passionate about what they do and we are seeing global recognition in terms of quality, selection and innovation. There is also a trend of younger people getting into the industry, which has resulted in more artisanal products.
Was “running the LCBO” on your list of things to do after university?
Not at all! My training and education (including both my master’s and PhD) was in the science field and I saw myself working in health sciences. It wasn’t until I was recruited by an Ontario winery to set up their lab that I found my niche. Working with the local wine industry sparked a new passion for me and I went on to be trained in winemaking at the University of California, Davis. It was in 1997 that I joined the LCBO as the Director of Quality Assurance. I am a strong believer in staying close to your education and that, coupled with hard work, has led me to where I am today.
You have an extensive background in the wine industry, but we probably can’t get you to pick favourites – so what is your favourite fall cocktail, and why?
It’s hard for me to pick one favourite, as I love experimenting and trying new things. I love single malt scotches, older tequilas and red, white and rose wines. The type of wine I reach for always depends on the social occasion.
On December 1, join the Alumni Association for an evening of fine wine, paired with some delicious food, prepared by one of McMaster's finest chefs at annual wine pairing dinner. Each course paired with a specially selected wine by our guest speaker and Alumni Gallery inductee, George Soleas '83, President and CEO of the LCBO. More information here.