Russ Lorber, MBA ’02, had always had an entrepreneurial interest, but for many years, he wasn’t sure what to do with it.
In 25 years in finance and business operations, he had traveled the world, learning business cultures, supply chains, and sometimes, visiting winemakers. In 2020, he made the leap, ending a two-decade career with W.R. Grace, and launching a startup. That’s how the Baltimore-based Wide Roots wine-importing company was born.
Wine can be overwhelming. At the start, Lorber would obsessively read every wine label, trying to understand its story.
He pulled from the lessons he learned throughout his career and as a Maryland Smith MBA, searching for warehouse space in Maryland, studying the value chain of the industry. He focused on fundamentals, such as making wine accessible and enjoyable for customers.
He tackled each challenge one by one. Importing wine requires a lot of capital, and the industry itself is highly competitive. Lorber leaned into online marketing to set Wide Roots apart and grow consumer awareness, recruiting Smith students to expand social media engagement.
A few months ago, he hired fellow Smith alum Staci Daniels ’14 as a wine consultant. She brought a love of the industry and years of experience with E&J Gallo Winery.
Together, they’re making sure Wide Roots’ product assortment is top-notch. Looking back on the journey, Lorber says he can’t imagine doing anything else.
“Don’t force it,” he says, “but once you find your passion, go for it—don’t look back.”