From sales to CEO: A female entrepreneur’s journey in the beverage alcohol industry

Contributed by Alexi Cashen, an EO San Francisco member who is CEO and co-founder of Elenteny Imports, co-founder of St. Hildie’s Botonica, and host of The Alexi Cashen Podcast.

The progress women in leadership have made over the past decade is energizing and generates hope and excitement for the future of female entrepreneurs. This historic shift is evidenced in a report published by Women Business Collaborative, C200 and Catalyst, which announced that the number of women CEOs has risen from 6 percent in 2019 to a projected 8.2 percent by February 2021.

It is humbling to be a part of the growing group of female CEOs and entrepreneurs—or “femmepreneurs,” as some call us—in the beverage alcohol industry. As co-founder and CEO of Elenteny Imports, a B2B freight forwarding logistics company, and co-founder and chief revenue officer of St. Hildie’s Botonica Spiked Tincture Tonics, I have been honing my business acumen for the past 19 years while working in the food, wine, and spirits industry.

From hospitality to CEO

When a dismal job market upended my hopes of becoming a high school English teacher, I ventured into the food and wine industry in my home state of Colorado: I began waiting tables at a restaurant called The Med.

Restaurant life was trial by fire and required stellar teamwork abilities, a strong passion for food and wine, and a propensity for understanding people—all of which I quickly developed and cultivated.

After The Med, I moved to New York and seasoned my career with hospitality, retail and sales positions at Craft Restaurant, Morrell & Company, Oriel Wines and Polaner Selections. These experiences taught me that I possessed excellent interpersonal skills and demonstrated talent in sales and marketing.

Working in wine during the financial crisis of 2008, I quickly noticed the opportunity to innovate within the alcohol logistics industry alongside my business colleague, Tim Elenteny. After witnessing the financial crisis first-hand, Tim and I embarked on a new journey in 2010 by founding Elenteny Imports, offering innovative logistics services to buoy wine, spirits and beer companies during unprecedented times.

Evolving into entrepreneurship

As “Chief Executive Optimist” of Elenteny Imports, I spearhead operations and manage our team across New York, Colorado and California, guiding my team and customers through the myriad of details that make up the US alcohol three-tier distribution system. This notoriously complicated beast can make or break a business depending on how its members confront conflict and develop strategies for success. Since the launch of Elenteny Imports, we have helped over 400 clients grow their sales from coast to coast and import over 1 million cases of wine, beer and spirits every year.

In addition to overseeing a company as CEO in a global pandemic, I launched two passion projects. First, the “Alexi Cashen Podcast” series in 2020. I interview female entrepreneurs and industry innovators on my podcast, discussing their careers, industry trends and businesses. This year, I also launched St. Hildie’s Botonica Spiked Tincture Tonic with fellow female executives Christine Peck and Meghan Deroma, providing an alternative adult beverage for the modern and health-conscious consumer.

Identify your superpowers

One essential practice in being an entrepreneur (and human, really) is taking the time to reflect on your strengths that have resulted in successes, both big and small. Throughout my career, these four superpowers have served me well:

  1. Shifting energy. My title of “Chief Executive Optimist” of Elenteny Imports pays homage to a skill I’ve possessed since my restaurant days when I would transform a table’s negative attitude into a positive experience: I call it my “energetic ability.” Whether it manifests in sharing a stellar wine pairing recommendation with a restaurant guest or offering an Elenteny customer a strategic solution to their logistics problem, tapping into this skill yields customer satisfaction and increased trust.
  2. Managing expectations. Logistics is an imperfect business, so setbacks have to be communicated to the client. The ability to be honest and realistic with others about what is possible in a challenging situation is a skill that I pride myself on.
  3. Collaboration and teamwork. According to a Harvard Business Review study on leadership gender differences, women outscore men in 17 out of 19 key leadership capabilities, including collaboration and teamwork, which is one of my top talents. 
  4. Balance. While entrepreneurship and business is my passion, the most crucial part of my life comes first: family. I structure my work-life balance with my favorite activities like hiking, meditation, and sharing a bottle of champagne and oysters with my husband.

Categories: Entrepreneurial Journey Inspirational Member Spotlight WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS


Comments are closed.