If there is one thing that Vigilante Living is about, it’s listening to that little voice in your head. And then taking action. This is the story of Renee Kuo, a young, accomplished, female Managing Director in Bonds at several premier Wall Street banks (Banc of America Securities, Citadel Securities) who seemed to have it all professionally — the business school degree, the rolodex of happy clients, a fast track trajectory in a highly competitive field, glamorous evenings out in New York’s best restaurants. All seemed ironed-out, but for the little voice in her head that whispered….. “I love wine.”
When she first began her career in finance, Renee Kuo knew nothing about wine; her boss insisted that she study-up on basic wine literacy : “Renee,” she’d say, “if you order the Two Buck Chuck with a client, I’ll kill you.” Soon enough, however, she could confidently navigate the wine list, and made friends with several notable New York City and LA sommeliers. Meanwhile, this high-powered finance expert (her specialty was bond sales) got promoted further and further up the corporate ladder, eventually becoming the Managing Director of the newly formed Citadel Securities. Happily, she referred to herself as bonafide “Bond Girl”. In her spare time, however, Renee dove into the world of wine, making it her hobby. She enrolled in a course after work at the local farmer’s market where she would take a series of Wine & Cheese classes, which she credits for training her palate and educating her about the different wine-growing regions of the world. Which led her to France: she travelled with a group of wine enthusiasts to the Bordeaux region in France for a holiday. And as Renee describes it, it was a life-changing trip in terms of solidifying her passion for viticulture, but ended up concluding that it was not sensible to leave her career in finance to follow her passion for wine as a profession. It just seemed too far a leap. As Renee wryly describes it, in her blog From Wall Street to Wine, she just dove deeper into collecting wine to consume : “Carrie Bradshaw had a closet full of shoes. I had a closet full of wine.”
But this tenacious Stanford grad found herself looking for more depth to her hobby, and in Vigilante fashion, took things a step further by enrolling in the UC Davis certificate in Viticulture. So, while still rocking her finance gig all day long, Renee would retreat to her wine studies at night, and pick grapes with friends in Santa Barbara on weekends for fun. She’d been so natural in her successes in banking, and it seemed the most logical path. But when she looked honestly at herself, she noted that “it was really that I just didn’t find banking fulfilling anymore. I realized I had very little to lose if I left, as I wasn’t in the same situation as 99.9% of my colleagues (male) who had wives who didn’t work and children all ready for college. I knew if I didn’t take the chance, I’d be living a life of regret.” Renee puts it eloquently: “The saying usually goes Life is too Short but for me, life was WAY too long to do something I didn’t want to do!” In a tale that reads like a screenplay, fate then sent Renee directly toward her new career, step-by-serendipitous-step. She experienced a series of miraculous & fateful encounters: a run-in with one of Bordeaux’s most famous wine-makers, Christian Moueix, while both were in New York; a chance wine-bar dinner where she ended up seated next to Don Ross, a prominent Napa Valley vintner and wine collector, and lastly, while hiking in Santa Barbara, literally bumping into Garon and Shari Staglin, who HAPPEN to own Staglin Family Vineyards in Napa Valley — where she landed her first internship in Napa. At each of these junctures, Renee made it known that she wanted to work in the wine industry – and of course being charming, smart and hot did not hurt either. But that was all it took.
Once she landed in Napa, it was all over: in a three-year period, Renee went from scrubbing the interior of wine tanks as an intern, working 12 hour days doing gritty behind-the-scenes work to landing a wine sales job (obtained probationally) — and of course KILLING IT by calling up her old Wall Street contacts with wine cellars –to the present: Renee now has her dream job as General Manager of Seven Stones Winery in Napa. “It’s soup to nuts” she says; “There is just one person responsible for Seven Stone’s overall business strategy… and then just one person washing glasses after the tastings. Me!” This is Vigilante Living people. Living your passion every day and not being afraid to change course when your inner voice speaks.
Renee says that this whole experience from Wall Street to Napa reminded her of the Tennyson poem, Ulysses (which is available in its entirety at the bottom of this post.) For, if it were not for Wall Street, Renee surmises, she may not have encountered her passion for wine. “I am a part of all that I have met,” writes Tennyson. “I will drink life to the lees,” he says — a sentiment that Renee has made her professional and personal mantra. Of course, explains Renee, there is the 99.9% pay cut to consider, despite living without regret in a career of her dreams. Renee sums the trade-off best: “As two of my colleagues on Wall Street said, ‘Part of us thinks you’re crazy, and the other part is really jealous.’ “Here’s to crazy!” says Renee. We could not be more in agreement, darling: with both Tennyson and you.
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By Alfred, Lord Tennyson