Roger Nabedian ’85

Throughout his college years, Nabedian worked in a grocery store. So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that his first real job out of college was within that realm.

Nabedian signed on with E&J Gallo Winery, working as a salesperson in New Hampshire selling wine to grocery and liquor stores.

“I understood that environment quite well,” he says.

He filled a variety of roles at the company after that, including director of college recruiting, director of recruiting and field marketing in Europe, vice president of new product development, and vice president of operations.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” he says. “I love leading and managing a team.”

In 2007 he became senior vice president and general manager at Gallo’s headquarters in Modesto, Calif., the job he currently holds.

“I started at the bottom and worked my way up,” he says. “It was a great foundation because you really see how consumers interact with brands, and you have to learn how to influence people, to create needs and wants in your buyers. A lot of our people start there even to this day.”

Amy Prosenjak ’94

After working on the business side of The Limited and Value City Furniture in Ohio, Prosenjak was up for an adventure.

“I was getting that itch: Are we going to live in Ohio our whole lives?” she thought. She and her husband, Steven Guy, had traded in their beer kegger for a wine collection, and when Guy found a job opportunity for his wife at an Oregon winery, Prosenjak sent in her resume on a whim.

“The next day the owner called and asked me if I understood cost accounting,” she says. “He said he could teach me wine, but he couldn’t find anyone who understood cost accounting.”

That was 13 years ago. Prosenjak’s been in the top management at A to Z Wineworks in Newberg, Ore., since then. She’s now the chief executive officer, overseeing a company making 400,000 cases of wine a year and selling it in all 50 states.

“Wine is all about cost accounting,” she says. “It’s a really interesting and fun business, much sexier than furniture. Sometimes I get a call: ‘Can you come taste this new wine?’ And I say, ‘Sure, I’ll be right down.’”

Prosenjak will be back on the OWU campus this fall for the third biennial Women of Ohio Wesleyan (WOW) women’s leadership forum, Nov. 6–7. She’s on the steering committee for the event, which will feature opportunities for alumnae to connect, develop their professional network, and discuss shared experiences (see more information about the WOW event).

Devaraj Southworth ’94

As a digital sales manager at Deloitte, Southworth watched as many of his colleagues left to become entrepreneurs. So he took the plunge, too, building a successful advertising tech business, IThink Labs, before returning to a corporate job as a vice president at American Express.

Two years later, he felt the pull of entrepreneurship once again and cofounded Thirstie, a technology company and e-commerce platform for the alcohol industry.

First, the company offered online alcohol sales and delivery directly to consumers. Next, it added data services, gathering information about customers for large manufacturers and, more recently, smaller, independent brands.

“It’s the final frontier in e-commerce,” says Southworth. “We are changing an industry forever and it needs to be done in a calculated way, and you have to build credibility. You have to approach it as a longterm journey.”

Chris Sayer ’99

For Chris Sayer ’99 at Brewery Legitimus the business is all about hands-on tradition and building community with customers.

Sayer’s love affair with beer began during a semester abroad in Brussels during his junior year at OWU. To learn French, he worked at a tiny neighborhood bar washing glasses one night and drinking beers the next.

“I’d never had a beer in my life before that,” he says. But beyond expanding his taste buds, Sayer learned the importance of knowing your customers, and that’s a lesson he’s carried through to his own enterprise, Brewery Legitimus in New Hartford, Conn.

His taproom doesn’t use a dishwasher— the staff washes all the glasses by hand as they talk with customers.

“Washing dishes and talking to people while we’re working, as weird as that sounds, it’s a chance to hang out and talk. We learn what customers like and don’t like. I think interaction with people is the most important thing in this industry. We want you to be comfortable and we want to create a community.”

Owen Ridings ’06

What do you do with a philosophy degree? Ridings likes to joke that he philosophizes while he drinks and pours wine in his job as a wine sales specialist at Chateau Potelle winery in California’s Napa Valley.

“I say that in jest, but because I’m in a sales position I do use my major to figure out how I can best make connections with people,” says Ridings. “I love that I get to educate people about the enjoyment of wine, the cultural aspects around it. I get to tell them the story of where the grapes come from and the soil they come from.”

Ridings learned about wine “the old school way.” He apprenticed with a wine maker for six years, then worked as a wine director at a Japanese restaurant before managing a wine tasting room and then moving to his current position.

“There isn’t anything I hate about the job,” he says. “It’s definitely one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.”

Bennett Thompson ’12

Bennett Thompson ’12 relies on his chemistry background to help his Chicago brewery create distinctive beers. (Photo by Brian McConkey Photography ’88)

Thompson’s plan after graduation was to get his Ph.D. in chemistry and become an academic.

“I had no goal to ever leave for an applied science career, and beer was not close to my goals,” he says.

But facing a tight job market for chemistry professors, he quit his Ph.D. program after getting his master’s and started thinking about pursuing food science. The brewing industry caught his attention and he tried it, working at a Connecticut brewery for three months without pay. That led to a paid job in the lab of another brewery and then his current job as quality manager at Half Acre Beer Co. in Chicago.

“Being able to apply my science education directly is exciting,” he says. “I feel like it’s full of endless opportunities to continuously learn about something that humans created to enjoy and something that’s really interesting.”

By Kathy Lynn Gray

Return to the Spring 2020 OWU Magazine