Wine Seller-- Business venture makes perfect sense for attorney

By Jeanine Matlow

Legal News

The decision to become a lawyer came to Lori Woods during a business law class, a course that would age like a fine wine, which interestingly enough has led her along a different career path.

"I majored in economics, international business, and politics in college," she says. "I realized that, for me, a law degree would pull all three areas together."

Woods, who grew up in Minnesota, attended Cornell College in Iowa and the University of Minnesota Law School before starting her corporate legal career in Chicago. There, she would do work for real estate guru Sam Zell and his related entities, practicing corporate and real estate law, that eventually led her to go in-house with his multi-family REIT (Equity Residential) which had recently gone public.

She would continue with transactional law before moving to the operations side. When Woods relocated to California with her husband Peter, she continued practicing corporate law and they had two sons.

Becoming a parent would put her on a different career course.

"In 2005, I acknowledged that I could no longer practice law and be the kind of mom I wanted to be, waived the white flag and made the decision to leave and start a company with my husband, who had been in the wine and spirits business for nine years," says Woods who moved to Michigan where her husband is from and they started Midwest Wine Exchange.

MWE began as a wine brokerage company, representing mainly California boutique, low production wines in Michigan.

Since then, its representation has expanded to include wines from Oregon, Washington, France, Italy, Spain and Canada.

The company also has several of its own brands. Their most successful private label is ELUSIV Pinot Noir, which is now available at Vino Volo, the wine bar/store at Detroit Metro Airport.

Woods, who resides in Novi, says her husband has a passion for wine and an extensive wine knowledge obtained from years of study and sales experience.

He is the "palate" of Midwest Wine Exchange, she says. He finds the wine, sells it in the market, and works with the winemakers when they come to market.

She handles the operations side: winery agreements, state compliance and licensing, ordering, invoicing and bill payment, financing, insurance and marketing materials for wine tasting events.

"While I do miss the practice of law, I believe my legal experience has been a tremendous asset to MWE - both in establishing the entity, laying the groundwork for operations, and actually operating on a day-to-day basis," Woods says.

"Owning our own company has given me and my husband the flexibility to be the kind of parents we wanted to be. I'm not sure if I'll ever go back to practicing law, but I'll never regret the education I received or the legal experience and credentials I gained during my 14 years of practice."

If Woods could start over, she wouldn't change a thing.

"I obtained a great education, worked hard for many years learning an area of the business world I love, met great people, worked with very intelligent colleagues and clients and, unbeknownst to me at the time, laid a solid foundation for what I am currently doing today," she says.

"My current career seems to be the other side of my legal career coin. Before, I was representing the business person and now I am the business person," Woods says.

"As a lawyer, I had to learn how companies operate so that I could adequately represent them. Now I am operating a company."

Her dedication is clearly evident, according to one of the company's suppliers. Eric Cohen, partner with Waugh Cellars in Los Angeles, sells products to MWE.

"I applaud Lori so much for following her passions into the wine business, an endeavor in which success is far from assured and, in fact, most fail at," Cohen says.

"It is not like a lot of other industries in that a straightforward plan is not necessarily the path to achievement. It is a road in which lots of improvisation is often necessary and her accomplishments not only with us, but their other wine brands, are an indication she'd be successful in anything she tried."

Published: Mon, Jun 13, 2011