Alumnus Jordan Keesee (MSM ’16) speaks with Alumni Council member Moira Davis (’89) about prioritization, personal branding, and benefits of the School’s Graduate Consulting Project.
Moira: Before we get to your time as an undergraduate at Furman University, I am curious: which school has a prettier campus?
Jordan: In terms of a more classical look, it’s hard to beat the look of Wake Forest in the fall. If I were going to be pressed on it, I’m going to go with Wake Forest (but summer at Furman can’t be beat, either!).
Moira: As a Sustainability Science major at Furman, what made you pursue the Masters in Management (MSM) program?
Jordan: My major was a combination of earth and environmental science, economics, along with public policy. My specialty was working on land acquisition for redevelopment for green zones around cities as a buffer. In that major I learned how to think critically: that I should never see things as right but see things as wrong and improve them as I go along.
After studying abroad in Spain and falling in love with the culture, I knew I wanted to have a career in wine and spirits. While I went to Furman for a liberal arts education, I chose Wake Forest to gain refinement in business acumen. Although I could have entered the workforce after college, that year [in the MSM program] was tremendously beneficial to me. I got a great understanding of how the business world worked. And another year to grow up and mature a little bit more.
Moira: Tell me about your role with E&J Gallo in the Leadership Development Program and your work with Mill Mind. Are they related?
Jordan: I work with an extension of E&J Gallo as a District Sales Manager and call on Republic National Distributing Company (RNDC), which is their distributor network. The next position I would move into would be a full-time role with E&J Gallo. I am responsible for all the sales growth in upstate South Carolina. This includes implementation for programming the chains, pricing, and marketing strategy. I am in essence a figurehead within RNDC on behalf of E&J Gallo.
Mill Mind is a project that I spent time on during the pandemic when travel was halted a year ago. The intent was not to make money, rather to drum up interest in the wine and spirits industry. Because I had extra time in 2020, I put it to work by interviewing those in my industry who I found extraordinary, interesting, and compelling. I interviewed 35 people who were recognized by Forbes 40 under 40, Wine Enthusiast Top 100, and others who were impactful within the wine and spirits world. More than anything it was a self-adventure. I am a huge fan of 60 Minutes and interviewing people. I called it Mill Mind, short for Millennial Mind. I will continue to develop it over time but right now, my life is a bit chaotic. My wife and I have full-time jobs, a new house, and a 13-month-old. Someday I will throw myself back into it.
Moira: I think the pandemic was probably good for you in some ways. What would you look back on as something you learned from it?
Jordan: I’m a different person. It was an isolating year but positive in the sense of a reality check. I learned what’s important to me versus what’s important to others who are projecting that onto me. Life is now what I choose to make it. Take prioritization: I have a young child, am married, and have things outside my work that I’m passionate about that are the most important. I understand others always say those things are important, but during the last year I realized just how important those things are and what my limitations are regarding what I can and can’t do. So while over the next five to ten years exactly where I will be and what I will be doing is TBD, my takeaway is to first prioritize what is important and secondly, focus on what matters and make a difference by not getting lost in the things that ultimately are not. I’d rather do a couple of things great than do 10 things average.
Moira: Did your career goals change once you graduated from Wake Forest with your MSM? Did you spend more time on Mill Mind than you thought you would?
Jordan: My career path did not change post Wake Forest. Mill Mind was more of an add-on and something I wanted to do with personal branding; it was a portfolio of creative content that I could do in addition to what I already do daily on a professional basis. I believe that for current students and the next generation, personal branding is going to be as important as corporate branding – because you are a company. The Mill Mind work is an attempt to brand myself in a way that is both professional but also approachable and authentic. Within the corporate world, that authenticity is naturally constrained because you work for somebody, and that’s ok. But on the outside, I can better distinguish myself as a person through personal branding. The work I do with Mill Mind does this for me.
Moira: E&J Gallo was very involved with the MSM program’s Graduate Consulting Project. What was your role with that?
Jordan: I’d like to think they participated because of me, which is not necessarily true at all! E&J Gallo didn’t recruit on Wake Forest’s campus; while I wasn’t the first Wake Forest alum to work there, I did make a big deal about it. I sought out interviewing opportunities for E&J Gallo, along for other beverage companies. That’s what helped create the connection with Wake Forest. With the help from other alumni and a little pushing from me, our recruiters decided to dip into the Wake Forest talent pool to see if they could pull out some quality candidates.
Partnering with the School on a Graduate Consulting Project gives the students real-world data to actually work with. The projects are impactful as students are getting to work on something very legitimate. Plus, it gives [the company] access to wonderful students and a wonderful school, which is exactly where they want to recruit smart, young students from. A bonus is fresh eyes to problems the winery may currently be dealing with.
Moira: So, I take it you would recommend other companies explore this as well?
Jordan: It’s mutually beneficial. Selfishly, it gave me exposure to young people’s ideas. I love hearing what’s on their minds and what they have to say. There are so many things a 21, 22, 23-year-old is going to tell me; things that aren’t on my radar even though I like to think I’m really tuned in. I felt like I was winning on the exchange of information by huge margins by just having time with those students.
Moira: Beyond engaging the students in your business, what keeps you connected with the School of Business?
Jordan: Wake Forest is an amazing institution. Most clearly for me it was the relationships I developed with professors and administrators (with whom I’m still in touch) who were invested in their students beyond the classroom. I experienced something similar at Furman, but at Wake Forest, there’s also the Pro Humanitate motto. It’s as real as it can be for a large university. My year there shaped me as a person and professional in such a way that when I look back, I see it as a very impactful period of my life.
Moira: Do you have any words of wisdom for the current and future Wake Forest students?
Jordan: “Be yourself, because everyone else is taken.” – Oscar Wilde. It sticks with me because I think that in this world of blitzing media, we hear so many different voices; particularly young people get so influenced that they can become a hologram of who they are. They think they want things they don’t really want; they buy things they don’t need; and they take jobs they don’t want just to impress people. Just be yourself. You are going to be 1,000 steps ahead coming out of Wake Forest.