Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Spring 2007Kellogg School of Management
FeaturesBrand NewsFaculty NewsAlumni ProfilesClass NotesClub NewsArchivesContactKellogg Home
Neal Freeland '02

Wade Fetzer '61

Jill Gordon '80
Brent McKim '93

Julia Flynn Siler '93

Rafael Carreira '94
Subimo team: Heilman '95, Fiacco '86, Shevock '95
Brand brings them together: Kellogg-Recanati
Alumni in the News
Address Update
Alumni Home
Submit News
Internal Site
Northwestern University
Kellogg Search
  Julie Flynn Siler
  Julia Flynn Siler '93

Alum chronicles family business saga, peril

Kellogg degree translates into journalism career for Julia Flynn Siler '93

Since graduating from the Kellogg School's Part-Time MBA Program in 1993, Julia Flynn Siler has savored a variety of professional experiences that all draw upon her management education.

The California-based writer has been working the past three years on The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty. The book, which will be published in June, chronicles four generations of the visionary, but often contentious, Mondavi family, including the sibling rivalry between brothers Robert and Peter as well as events leading up to the company's sale in 2004. The volume grew out of a page-one article she wrote for The Wall Street Journal.

"I remember having lunch with the deputy San Francisco editor, who had noticed buried in that day's San Francisco Chronicle that Michael Mondavi had just stepped down as chairman of the family controlled but publicly traded company," Flynn Siler says. When she called the company to ask why, the board and family members declined to comment. "For a reporter, if a company does that, it's like hoisting a red flag. It makes you more determined to find out what's going on."

So Flynn Siler began digging, speaking to former Mondavi executives and poring over documents. About six months later, she had produced a lengthy article "that was a testament to how you can write a story even if none of the principles will cooperate with you," she says.

One thing that helped Flynn Siler during her investigation into the Mondavi family business was her previous experience in her own family's company.

The journalist explains that she attended Kellogg in part to give her a better business foundation if she decided to work someday for her family company, a small San Francisco-based business that owns restaurants and real estate on the West Coast. After graduating, Flynn Siler won a fellowship to teach business journalism in Prague, which was followed by a seven-year stint as a foreign correspondent based in London, first for BusinessWeek and then for The Wall Street Journal.

When she returned to the U.S. in 2000, she joined her family's business and found that her Kellogg experience was undeniably helpful. "It gave me a language to talk to my dad and my brother, who both loved the business and were immersed in it," she recalls. "The part that I didn't expect and wasn't fully prepared for was the way that emotions come into family businesses."

Flynn Siler notes that the business was experiencing growing pains when she arrived and subsequently splintered into two parts, one run by her father and the other by her brother. She credits her organizational behavior classes at the Kellogg School for her ability to help make that transition smoother.

In the end, the split led Flynn Siler back to pursuing her love of writing with The Wall Street Journal. She said she appreciated the eye-opening experiences she encountered while inside the family company, which enriched her career in business journalism.

When her article on the Mondavi family business ran in the Journal in 2004, the publisher of Penguin's Gotham Books saw it and approached Flynn Siler about writing a book based on the story.

"It's not only a family epic that spans four generations and five continents, but it's also a case study for business people in succession planning and corporate governance," she says. "I would not be surprised if it ends up as assigned reading for business school students as a cautionary tale of what can happen when a company founder is determined to have his offspring succeed him, despite their temperaments and talents."

And that would take Flynn Siler's MBA experience full circle. "My education at Kellogg brought a lot to my ability to write what is a very ambitious book."

Once the manuscript is published, Flynn Siler says she is looking forward to spending more time with her husband and her sons, ages 8 and 11, and reconnecting with the Kellogg School's West Coast alumni network.

"There are going to be periods of your life where you are going to be working 18 hours a day, but then you have to make it up," she says. "You must take breaks and slow down. I am hoping to have a more balanced schedule going forward."

As busy as she has been over the past several years, Flynn Siler says she is pleased with her achievements so far. "I expected I'd be working at the family business, but becoming an author has turned out much better. I'm using the wonderful education at Kellogg to become a more informed chronicler of the business world."

Current Student News & Events
View all current news
Subscribe to Kellogg News RSS
©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University