Like many children who grew up in a family-owned business, Sydney Corliss ’15 started working at a young age. In her case, this meant helping out at Corliss Estates, her family’s winery, housed in a former bakery in Walla Walla, Washington. From the age of 11, she worked on the production line doing everything from sorting grapes to topping barrels. Despite being “born into it,” Corliss was not always sold on the idea of going into the family business.
It was June 21, during the Sotheby’s ‘Finest and Rarest Wines’ auction,” she said. “I was probably the only intern excited to be at work all day on a Saturday.” She recalled sitting next to the telephone bidders on the side of the salesroom, and feeling the rising energy in the crowd as the auctioneer called out the bidding increments of the lots for sale. “That was when I felt excited and confident in my career choice,” she said. “Growing up around the production of wine, I inherited a passion for it. I would attend wine auctions with my dad, and he would always let me raise our paddle number. But working at Sotheby’s, I saw a whole different side of the business that intrigued me and allowed me to see that I was able to make a difference, even as an intern.”
Corliss explained that, at Sotheby’s, she connected her background in wine production to an entirely different side of the industry – marketing and distribution. She also found herself surrounded by people who were unabashedly passionate about wine and who were full of charisma and drive, especially when it came to selling.
Corliss, who was close to completing a degree in business leadership and management at St. Thomas, found herself uniquely positioned for a career in the increasingly global wine industry. Not only could she leverage her product knowledge, background in production and her degree, but she was confident that she would stand out as a job candidate for an international position because of her experiences living and studying abroad.
She started traveling at a young age, first with her family to multiple countries in Africa, South America and Europe, and then, in her senior year of high school, going abroad to attend boarding school.
“The idea of spending my last year of high school in another country was fascinating to me,” she said. “I applied to four schools in the United Kingdom and chose King’s College Taunton because the atmosphere felt right and the curriculum was rigorous. I was the only American student at King’s, but quickly got involved with football (soccer), rounders and the golf team. I learned to embrace other cultures, which is great experience to have as I start out in my career.”
When it came time to apply for college, Corliss’ father suggested she consider St. Thomas. He was familiar with the school through his work as a trustee at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, and knew the school had an excellent academic reputation.
“In my family, we’re encouraged to step outside the box and spend time in new places to deepen our knowledge and perspective,” she said. “St. Thomas felt like the right school for me.”
As a junior at St. Thomas, Corliss found another opportunity to travel through the spring 2014 Semester at Sea. She described the experience of watching the sun set over the ocean and then waking up the next morning in a new country just waiting to be explored. Over the course of 112 days, she visited 16 cities and 12 countries – including Japan, China, Vietnam, South Africa, Ghana and Morocco – before continuing to backpack around Europe after the trip ended in England.
“I believe that living and traveling abroad has given me an amazing perspective,” she said. “It’s far more important than any title on my resume. These experiences helped me grow and discover who I am and what I want to accomplish.”
As graduation approached and her internship at Sotheby’s ended, she researched companies in the wine industry and consistently networked, even though she wasn’t sure of the exact position she wanted.
Through the global network YPONextGen, which sponsors conferences and forums and promotes career opportunities, she applied for internships in Monaco, Florence and Hong Kong in the hope that she could work and live abroad. “I believe that, for millennials who want to gain momentum in our careers, the question is not if we want to work abroad, but rather when we will work abroad,” she said.
She was contacted by a representative from Macro Wine and Spirits Asia, an importer and distributor with a diverse portfolio of premium wines, for an interview with the company’s operations director. Less than a week later, she was offered a four-month internship; she described her reaction as “ecstatic.” As a digital marketing trainee of Cellarmaster Wines, Corliss collaborates with marketing and product development teams to oversee the company’s integrated digital marketing strategy and help to launch an e-commerce platform designed to drive site traffic, engagement and product sales.
Because it recently abolished taxes on wine, Hong Kong has emerged as a major hub for wine – both in retail and in the distribution to other Asian markets. According to The New York Times, in 2013, China overtook France and Italy as the biggest consumer of red wine and the market continues to mature on an accelerated schedule. By combining her current experience in production, retail and the auction side of the industry with new experience in distribution, Corliss hopes to broaden her base of knowledge and strengthen her resume, moving her into a stronger position in this global industry.
“Working internationally for a reputable organization is a great start for my career,” Corliss said. “And I leave St. Thomas with mentors, colleagues, friends and professors who have inspired me and pushed me to great lengths over these past four years, so I can get there. St. Thomas has truly taught to me ‘think critically and act wisely’ as I mapped out the next chapter of my life.”
Following her internship, Corliss said she’s eager to work for a company with business channels overseas, continuing to build on the experiences she’s already had. “Living, studying and traveling abroad helped me find my identity,” she said. “And having global experiences allows me to better understand where others are coming from – from both a business and personal perspective. I have a strong sense of direction and I’m independent, and I owe much of that to traveling. I learned that it takes a lot for me to feel out of my comfort zone, and I believe this is why I am able to move to different countries and experience their cultures and business environments.”
If she does return to the United States, she said she could see herself working in Napa, California, and possibly furthering her education by taking courses with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust or the Court of Masters Sommeliers. And then, of course, there are bigger dreams on the horizon. “I’ve always had a dream of working for a winery in the French wine regions of Bordeaux or Burgundy,” she said.