University wine program director retires

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ROHNERT PARK, Sept. 26, 2007 -- The director of the Sonoma State University Wine Business Program, Mack Schwing, announced he will leave the position at the end of this month as the program shifts from fundraising to curriculum development.

Mr. Schwing, who has been at the helm of the program for four and a half years, is turning the reins over to Linda Nowak, Ph.D., a marketing professor and coordinator of the nascent wine MBA program, until a formal search starts in coming months.

Mr. Schwing, formerly a partner in the New York office of Deloitte & Touche, came to the university to bolster wine industry support for the program. In that time, the industry has contributed $750,000, which has covered most of the salary costs for a director and assistant as well as research grants, according to Mr. Schwing.

The annual program budget is about $125,000.

In an e-mail message sent earlier this week to supporters of the program, Mr. Schwing wrote that the program needs a new leader to take undergraduate and graduate curriculum as well as faculty research to new levels.

"I've accomplished as much as I can, and now what the program really needs is a faculty leader," he said in phone interview. "The curriculum needs a revamp. It's been taught for several years now."

He said Dr. Nowak is the person to make that happen, based on her previous experience as an academic department chairman and her work for more than a year to get the wine MBA approved through the California State University system.

The graduate program already has 20 students signed up for courses to start in January and spring, with as many as 30 envisioned to be enrolled when classes begin, according to Dr. Nowak. By comparison, the undergraduate program has 30 students.

"There has been an incredible response from the industry for the MBA program in calls I've received from enologists and viticulturists who want to gain skills so they can rise to leadership positions in their organizations," she said.

Already, the undergraduate wine program has new courses set to begin, and faculty will have more research funding opportunities. A class on the global wine business will begin in the spring, and one on e-commerce and direct sales is set to start in fall 2008.

The program's advisory council is offering $35,000 in research grants to faculty for the new academic year, an increase from $10,000 last school year. Studies funded last year include Liz Thach's inquiry into consumer behavior, Janine Olsen's research on consumer perception and marketing of organic wine and Tom Atkins' academic coursework development in Italy.

Mr. Schwing said his work after he leaves the program is still undecided but likely will involve speaking engagements and consulting on professional management.

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