LIFTING A GLASS Bill Goldring
Recipient of the 2012 Ella Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award
STEVE HRONEK PHOTOGRAPH
As Presented by the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience
On any given day in New Orleans chances are your path will intersect with at least one facet of civic life that has been supported by the generosity of William Goldring. Touro Infirmary, Tulane University, City Park and the Audubon Institute are but a few institutions that have been helped by the Goldring Family Foundation. “Attend any event in this city that’s raising funds for a worthy cause and Bill in all likelihood supported that event in some way,” says Mary Beth Romig, 2012 New Orleans Wine & Food Experience Board President. “In honoring Bill Goldring, we honor a legacy that goes beyond the hospitality industry. We honor a life of giving that will forever have an impact on New Orleans and beyond.” This year, it was an easy choice: the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience is proud to present Bill Goldring with its annual Ella Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award.
Yet despite the sweep of his philanthropy, Goldring remains a private man. Such discretion was passed down by his father Stephen, who had very clear thoughts about the responsibilities that come with wealth. These principals were crystalized in a letter given to Bill by his parents just before his 21st birthday. Now engraved as a keepsake in his office, in just two short pages it strips to the core the universal desires that every parent has for their child: health, happiness and wealth. It then extends these into the world of prosperity and its inherent pitfalls Stephen knew would soon surround his son, thereby providing him with a clear set of values to help navigate these tricky waters:
“Abuse of wealth can bring sorrow or even death. Intelligent use of wealth can bring power and happiness, not only to you, but to many … The more wealth you have, the more responsibilities you have.”
Serve the greater good. Work and work hard. Play to win, even if you give it away after you win it. To all these points made in the letter, Bill has adhered. So much so that when his father died in 1997, Bill donated his entire bequest into the Goldring Family Foundation, while continuing to work just as before in the family’s liquor distribution business. In these two actions he upheld the very core of the letter’s principals.
Goldring’s grandfather founded the family business in 1898. A small company, his father worked day and night to build it up. When Goldring became old enough to try his hand, his father had reservations. At the time, selling alcohol had a bad reputation. Gambling, prostitution and liquor were all mixed together as S-I-N. His father also had doubts about the future viability of the wholesale business. “I told him, well, I’ll take my chances,” Goldring recalls. The rest is history.
Goldring entered the business after graduating from Tulane in 1964. By ’72, he was chief operating officer of Magnolia Liquor. Years of hard work, growth and acquisitions eventually resulted in Republic National Distilling Company. Under his watch, his business more than thrived; it became a major national player in the business of wholesale liquor distribution.
In 2010 Goldring sold Republic to refocus his attention on his businesses The Sazerac Company and Crescent Crown Distributing, and to this day he remains an indefatigable worker. “I’ve always told my kids, if you wake up in the morning and you think you have a J-O-B, then you are in the wrong business,” he says. “If you don’t love what you do, then you aren’t doing the right thing.” Taciturn when discussing his family’s history, Goldring lights up when discussing current business. The distilling end of his business produces 250 brands of liquor. His company Sazerac was the first to come out with an organic vodka called Rain. He has invested years developing experimental bourbon aging techniques using French Oak barrels that are now coming on the market, reshaping consumer tastes both here and abroad. Along with new products, he’s focused on the challenges of expanding internationally. At 69 years old his focus remains in the moment; instead of retiring (which he could have done decades ago) he’s preparing to move his organization into a brand-new office building on Metairie Road.
About giving, Goldring notes that running a foundation wisely is probably tougher than running a business. “Making money isn’t that hard once you understand what you’re doing,” he says. “But giving it away and giving the right amounts is very tough. There are just so many needs out there.” The good news for us is that almost all of the Goldring Family Foundation’s considerable giving is directed at the Greater New Orleans area. In this sense he’s following his father’s wishes (“As you get older you must serve your community” was another piece of advice), but in another sense he’s just following his bliss. Because the fact is that he truly loves his hometown. “Other cities, they just don’t have that joie-de-vivre that New Orleans has,” he says. “There is just something different about this city that is hard to put your finger on.” He pauses, searching for an explanation, then finds it. “When you go to cocktail parties in Chicago or New York, they just don’t know how to season their food. The people here in New Orleans, they season everything about the city.”