Grape Expectations

Third generation Scripps legacy Katie Ballou Calhoun ’88 never set out to become a business owner. But to have a career involving wine? Now that’s a different story.

Currently owner/president of Calhoun & Schwartz Communications, a San Francisco-based PR firm specializing in the wine and spirits industry, Katie says her proclivity for the grape began the year of her study-abroad program in France.

“Parisian schools begin their semester in October, but overseas students are required to spend the month prior living with a native host family and compose a paper on the experience,” Katie remembers. “I had the good fortune of being sent to Burgundy to live with owners of a vineyard. So I wrote on the history of that region’s wines.”

While at Scripps, Katie continued to pursue her newfound interest with an internship in the marketing department of a Los Angeles-based wine distributor. After graduation, Katie and husband Alex Calhoun (PO ’86) moved to San Francisco, where she worked for a short time with a Bay Area wine distributor. But it was the job she landed in 1989 with Edwin J. Schwartz Public Relations in San Francisco that set her course for entrepreneurship.

“Mr. Schwartz has been in wine public relations for 30 years, and is well-respected in the industry,” Katie says. “Over the years, he has been a great mentor and friend. He hung in there with me while I had kids and allowed me to reduce my hours to part time.”

In 2002, Katie was ready for another challenge. As she explored new opportunities, Schwartz approached her with the idea of buying him out of his business.

“The timing was right for both of us,” Katie says, “and we were able to negotiate an equally beneficial arrangement.” Unlike other entrepreneurs who may spend years meticulously and cautiously planning for business ownership, Katie notes she simply didn’t deliberate much about it beforehand—she just went for it.

She attributes her confidence to make quick decisions to an unlikely source—her experience volunteering with charities.

“I’ve done a lot of work with the Edgewood Center for Children and Families and rose through the ranks to board president in 2002,” Katie says. “That year, I oversaw the work of 80 volunteers, and together we raised $500,000, setting Edgewood’s record for the most money raised in a single year. As a leader managing multiple personal and professional commitments, I had to operate with high degree of efficiency. In total, this experience gave me a valuable proving ground: in trusting myself to make the right decisions, and ultimately in my ability to own and operate a company.”

To budding entrepreneurs Katie offers this advice: “To be a woman, a mother, and business owner, you have to have a partner who supports you and will share responsibilities at home.

“I’m lucky because my husband is just such a partner,” she adds. “I simply couldn’t do it without him.”

 

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