Flynn Siler '93
chronicles family business saga, peril
degree translates into journalism career for Julia Flynn Siler
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
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.
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."
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.
thing that helped Flynn Siler during her investigation into
the Mondavi family business was her previous experience in
her own family's company.
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.
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."
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.
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
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.
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
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."
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.
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."
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."