Andrew Carnegie, Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines and Corporate Culture

As I mentioned in a previous blog posting (A Weekend with Andrew Carnegie), my family and I recently enjoyed a fabulous Art, Wine and Music weekend at Skibo Castle, the family home of Andrew Carnegie in the Scottish Highlands.

One of the highlights of the weekend was an evening meal accompanied by a series of wines from a single winemaking family in the Rhone Valley of France. The wines were from Chateau Mont-Redon in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region of the southern Rhone Valley.  One of the owners of the vineyard, Jerome Abeille, was on hand to talk about each wine, its characteristics, history, composition of various grape varieties, and why it is being paired with each dish.  In the four course evening dinner we sampled four different wines from this vineyard, a white, two reds and a sweet dessert wine.



Chateau Mont-Redon

Chateau Mont-Redon

What I learned is that the wines of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region are actually made from a blend of several grape varieties.  These gloriously rich wines (the majority are reds) portray the hot climate and spicy herbs of the southern rocky lands and are blended from the 14 permitted grape varieties, including Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the largest and most important wine appellation in the southern Rhône.

Andrew Carnegie’s dining room at Skibo Castle

Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines and Corporate Culture

As I sat enjoying the food, wines and the jovial company I got to thinking about my favorite business subject, corporate culture (maybe it was the quantity and quality of the wine that helped as well).

If you don’t understand your corporate culture, you really don’t understand your business.

Many in the popular business press believe that it’s all about leadership, the one most important ingredient that drives business performance and creates corporate culture. But like the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, corporate culture is a blend of many different elements within an organization and is not just a single entity. It’s a complex blend.  And each company, while having many of the same elements driving the development of their corporate culture, has them in very different amounts and intensity.  Some cultures are heavily driven by the values, beliefs and style of the founder. Some cultures are heavily influenced by the characteristics of the industry (retail companies attract a very different type of personality than an aerospace company or an investment bank).  Some cultures are heavily influenced by a strong purpose while others are driven by the influence of large bonuses and sales commissions.

Over my 35 years of working with CEOs and senior teams on turnarounds and business improvement I have learned that there are five significant categories of inputs that go into making up a particular corporate culture.  The specific characteristic of the culture depends on the mixture (blend in wine terms) of these key inputs. These five are:

  • The characteristics of the industry
  • The beliefs and behaviour of the founder and senior leaders
  • The various subcultures within the company and their strong beliefs about the company, management and work
  • Stories and Shared Beliefs about the company and its purpose
  • Internal Policies, Systems and Work Processes that drive certain behaviours

The specific characteristics of each of these five culture drivers, plus the strength of each, all blend together to create a particular corporate culture and gives the company its specific “personality”. For example, Virgin and BA both fly business and holiday passengers around the world using many of the same makes of airplane, but their corporate cultures are very different. It’s the mix and content of each of the five “culture drivers” that create the vast differences between companies in the same industry. Culture is a blend, not a single entity.

cha%cc%82teauneuf-du-papeNext time you open a bottle of rich and spicy Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine, pause for a moment and think about the unique blend of grape varieties that make up that particular wine, then give some thought to your own corporate culture and why it has its various strengths and weaknesses.

Those who understand why will always defeat those who just understand what or how.



Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

John also writes thriller novelsC

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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