Matthew Youngblood | Crain's San Francisco

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Matthew Youngblood

Background:  

Matthew Youngblood has nearly 30 years experience developing brand strategy and design for companies including Coors, Safeway/Albertsons, Blue Moon, Carhartt, Northwestern Mutual, Lucerne, Torani, Norton by Symantec, Solar City, and Einstein Bros. Bagels.

Youngblood is a founding partner and the executive director of strategy and client services at Trinity Brand Group, a strategy and design firm with locations in the San Francisco Bay area, Chicago and Ireland. The company serves businesses in a variety of industries, including packaged food and beverage, technology, lifestyle brands and financial services. Youngblood is based out of Trinity’s Berkeley, Calif. office. 

The Mistake:

I’ve done a lot of work in the spirits and adult alcoholic beverages industry throughout my career. And in the early days of my career, while I was working at another company, there was a piece of the relationship code I didn’t understand. 

We were in Detroit pitching a spirits company, and the pitch went pretty well. After the pitch meeting, I went out to dinner with some of the people in the spirits company. My boss wasn’t with me, and the senior executive from the spirits company wasn’t there either. It was just the younger guys going out to dinner.

They had me order my drink first. I ordered my favorite drink, and then they ordered theirs and we went on to eat our dinner. After dinner was finished, they told me I had made a very unacceptable faux pas: I had ordered a drink that wasn’t one of their brands. And as nice as the dinner was, they were pretty short about it. It was one of the most embarrassing moments you could imagine. It was a classic rookie mistake.

Always follow up meetings with thank you notes.

The Lesson:

I was clueless and blindsided. It’s a no-brainer, but I just underestimated the passion they had for their brands and their products.

But it’s a really easy thing to coach from the management side of things. There’s a statement I tell my team: They need to remember that it's the sales of these products that actually end up being our paychecks. Our client’s business at some point supports ours. Also, it’s etiquette. It’s a piece of etiquette that I hadn’t learned when I made that mistake. It’s a subtle indicator of how well you know the industry, and I don’t think it’s industry specific, either. But it’s one of those things they don’t teach you in business school.

I learned that I’ll never let my people run into a similar situation. In that moment, I began to understand what mentoring was about, and why it was so important. There are things that go beyond the ins and outs of project management, and client management. I talk to my team about the relationship part of the business. For example, you always follow up meetings with thank you notes. Those are classic relationship pieces that aren’t taught in business school, but they’re a part of my philosophy and they’re just as important as learning the basics.

I’ve shared that moment of pain as a lesson in relationship building. Now, if we’re making dinner reservations for a dinner with representatives from a beer, spirits or wine company, we don’t even go to a restaurant if the company’s products aren’t sold there. That level of consideration is part and parcel to this industry.

 

Photo courtesy of Trinity Brand Group.