Massachusetts Beverage Business


Article By: Fred Bouchard

The role as ambassador for United Liquors is certainly not a new one for Jim Tye. With his 'retirement', that role is just a little more expanded, as he will be casting a wider if more informal net. Tye, a graduate of University of Miami and Columbia University School of Management, has had a firm hand in most areas of United Liquors management for over thirty-two years.

Speaking from his office during his last summer days at United Liquors, Jim talked about his time with the company. "When I started with United Liquors in my teens, sweeping the floor on weekends or whatever, our computers were run with punch cards and men loaded the trucks by hand. Today, the computers load the trucks. In some respects a lot has changed. What hasn't changed is our basic business principles. My father instilled in us the philosophy that what separates an average wholesaler from a great wholesaler is customer service. We all sell good brands. My family - my dad, my late brother Michael, and myself - were out there, day and night, building relationships with our customers and making sure that we were meeting their needs. There's no way I'd be retiring today - at a relatively young age and in good health - if I had any concerns about the future of our company. We just announced the promotion of Mark Fisher to President and COO of the United Group. With a guy like Mark at the helm we don't have to worry about the future of United. The company is in very good hands."

As to what he will be most remembered for from his thirty-two years in the business, Jim quickly states, "It would have to be my 'feet on the street'. My father impressed on Michael and me that it's important to travel to the source of the business. You have to let your customers know how important they are to you. I had the privilege of working in all segments of the business. Very early on, one of my jobs was to go out for two weeks with every United salesman to practically every market in the state to sell Peachtree Schnapps. At each account I'd always make a point to say 'Thank you for your business'." These small courtesies made an impression on people. "Best case, they'd say 'Gee, it was nice to see one of the Tyes in here, and by the way, we'll take those extra couple of cases'. Fortunately, disgruntled customers are few and far between, but whenever I get a call from a customer with a problem to be solved I always look at it as an opportunity for us to improve."

Tye always retained the lessons learned working retail accounts with a number of master salesmen. "Any salesman can walk in with a cup of coffee and start talking about the Red Sox. But how do you walk in and add value, so that customer wants to hear and see you more? When the storeowner sees you make him more money and that you care about his business, too. That's how."

"My rookie job out of college was working at the old Kronheim Distributing in Baltimore. I was riding with a very seasoned salesman, Ed Malin. I'll never forget, we went into this shop in Pikesville where Ed was doing very little business. He told the owner that we'd be back on Washington's Birthday and sell a lot of product. The owner said, 'Right!'. When the day came, Ed walked in dressed like George Washington, and started pushing bottles at customers saying, 'George wants you to drink this!'. It worked! Another time I saw Ed take one of his products and put it in the dump bin, telling the owner, 'This doesn't move. It's not fair to you. Let's discount it.' The owner said, 'Gee, you're gonna lose a spot,' and Ed said, 'I don't care. This is good for your store, so it's good for me.' After that, Ed owned that store."

"Jim's a blast to work with!
He's dedicated to his clients and a true lover
of his wines and champagnes.
He loves to watch his portfolio,
and helps you get to know wines
you didn't know or thought you didn't like.
He's true to his friends and clients!"

Max Campignon, Food & Beverage Director of the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel

These lessons certainly served Tye well as he moved into various management positions at United. Jim's roles were many. "More than anything else", says United Liquors Vice Chairman & CEO Dave Roberts, "Jim truly did everything he was asked to do - from operations, running control states, starting up Excel as well as our national accounts group - he truly did every job well. He never said no to any responsibility. That is a true indication of the kind of person he is." Roberts adds fondly, "We wish him well, and we will miss him."

Tye discussed the creation of United's Excel On-Premise Division, and the growing importance and industry focus on this segment. "On-premise business has come a long way from beer and highballs. Martinis and Cosmopolitans are everywhere. Who'd have dreamed of watermelon liqueurs and butterscotch shots? These have excited the spirits industry and have proven the maxim that trends develop and brands are built in the on-premise. I saw the vitality of the on-premise in Massachusetts and felt that we could capture a greater share of this business if we had a division dedicated to serving its needs. Paul took over the Excel Division two years ago and has done a super job".

Paul Canavan, Vice President and General Sales Manager of United Liquors Excel Division, truly appreciates the efforts of his predecessor. "I was very fortunate to grow up in the business with James Tye. There was no one more committed to the on-premise. He was passionate about business, worked tireless hours, developed lasting relationships, and created a culture that stood out among his competitors."

This admiration for Tye's relationships with the trade is shared by his peers at United and echoed by the recollections of many of his customers who have become close friends. "Jim's presence will definitely be missed. His efforts with customers is a key to United's success", says Lew Gack, United's Treasurer and CFO. "On a personal level, I will miss Jim's friendship and camaraderie." Adds Mark Fisher, the new President and COO of the United Group, "Jim's reputation among the retail and on-premise trade is second to none in the industry. The cordial relations he has forged throughout the years have established United Liquors as a company that places customers first". One of those customers, David Alphonse, of the Back Bay Restaurant Group, reveals the poorly kept secret that you can have a lot of fun working hard in this industry. "We've had so many wonderful moments. I'll never forget our lunch together in Brennan's in New Orleans. We ordered a bunch of wine and then proceeded to experiment with Bananas Foster at the tableside, flaming the dessert. Another time, when I took my wife out to dinner at Davio's, Jim was at the next table; when he left he picked up our tab and never said a word. He has an affection for the industry and loves to have fun!" Adds Max Campignon, Food & Beverage Director of the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel, "Jim's a blast to work with! He's dedicated to his clients and a true lover of his wines and champagnes. He loves to watch his portfolio, and helps you get to know wines you didn't know or thought you didn't like. He's true to his friends and clients!"

"As I look back on Jimmy's career at United
I see him as a beloved son,
who's done a great job,
and now at mid-life,
I give him credit for embarking
on new ventures."

A. Raymond tye

Jim indicates that he'll be keeping a sharp eye out for business opportunities. "Retired or not, this business is in my blood, and I'll continue to look for avenues for United to pursue. I've been privileged to travel to many countries, and to observe how people do business. Ron Weathers, our VP of Malt Beverages, is putting a trip together for me to visit breweries in Asia - Tsingtao in China, Singha in Thailand and 33 Brewery in Vietnam. Rarely do these companies see people from Western distributors. Our coming to their countries lets them know just how important their brands are to us. I have a plan to go to visit Riga, Latvia - my cousin Larry Tye traced our family's roots there - not only to find family history but also to see what kinds of products they have that may be of interest to Latvians in America. If I can put things together that are beneficial to our business family, I'm surely going to do something."

While his thirty-two years in the business have taught Jim a lot, his work with his family's and other charitable foundations has helped shaped who he is today. "One thing I've found from working with the Ray Tye Medical Aid Foundation we set up for dad is that there's no lack of people who need our help. The foundation has many individuals and charities looking for our help. They can't get government funding and sometimes can't even get into this country to get required surgery or treatment. My brother Michael and I learned from our dad: 'Never say 'no' to anyone in need.' We who are privileged can't forget those who are needy. We have the opportunity to help, and we don't say, 'I'm too busy, we're corporately out of money.' We just figure out how to find a way. It might be picking up the phone and calling on a supplier to pitch in. Get it from somewhere to help somebody. That's what I try to instill in my family, colleagues and friends."

Tye has also been known to put his body on the line to help others. Kappy's Bob Selby recalls, "Jim's always been an avid cyclist. We've been relatively close over the years, so Jim and I made the Jimmy Fund Sturbridge to Provincetown Ride about 12 years ago in honor of his dad's 5O years in the business. After Jim had his first heart problem, Tanqueray sponsored an AIDS bike ride from Boston to New York. I was part of the team as were Michael and Mark Tye. Jim could not participate, of course, but due to his dedication, he was there every step of the way: along the route, the start, encouraging the riders, met us in New York at the finish. He really showed his stuff for Team United."

Reflecting on the legacy his son will leave behind and proud of the courage he's shown in making this life altering change, Ray Tye, the company's Chairman, and a man who under any other circumstance would have the last word on the subject, recalls, "Jimmy came to United in 1974 and worked in all facets of our business very successfully. He's been a stalwart in the success of United Liquors. I guess there's a time in your life when it's time to change your course. Jimmy's decided at a relatively young age to do something different. As a single guy he can do it. I wish I'd had that chance. We'll miss him, but we appreciate that he's given us 32 of his best years. As I look back on Jimmy's career at United, I see him as a beloved son, who's done a great job, and now at mid-life, I give him credit for embarking on new ventures."

Jim Tye thought back on his career and pondered his future. My late brother Michael and I would talk about retirement, and he would say, "I'm gonna go to the wall now, but when I'm 5O, I'm gonna retire." We never told my father this. My father's style is that of the old westerns, dying with his boots on. My style was different. In 1999 I had open-heart surgery. I had a lot of complications - I'll never forget all those wires and tubes in intensive care - but thank God I survived and today I'm in very good health. Michael had been diagnosed with cancer the year before. Unfortunately, the outcome wasn't as good. He was greatly loved by all of us and by so many people; 5OOO attended his funeral. My brother Mark and I would not let the gravediggers do their job; we did the digging. That was when I made a vow to myself that if I could retire, I would take the opportunity. I really have to thank my father, Dave Roberts, Mark Fisher, and our new partners, Harvey and Wayne Chaplin, and an awful lot of people in our organization who work very, very hard. If not for them, I could not have, in my wildest dreams, been able to look towards these new adventures."

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