The Woman Who Leads The Pack

By Andréa McBride – March 09, 2021

The Woman Who Leads The Pack

Jennifer Chaplin Tolkin embodies the phrase of “women supporting women.” She’s elevating what it means to be a powerful, thoughtful and groundbreaking leader.

For our next #WomenCrushingIt this Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting a Change Agent on the distribution side of the business, challenging the wine & spirits industry status quo, proudly and loudly driving diversity and inclusion at her company and not accepting anything less. It goes without saying that Jennifer Chaplin Tolkin embodies the phrase of “women supporting women.” Jennifer is the Vice President, Family-Owned Brands for Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits , the largest and most prominent distributors of beverage alcohol in the United States and the world. 

Jennifer has been crushing every industry she takes on since she graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. From global entertainment to national strategy & business development, she’s a force that leads in her roles and champions other women as she goes. For Robin & I, she’s elevating what it means to be a powerful, thoughtful and groundbreaking leader.

Through a partnership with Columbia Business School, she’s helped build the Southern Glazer’s and Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America Women in Leadership program. This program not only supports women in business, it encourages them to find their strengths and leverage them in the business landscape in order to step into, with a whole lot of confidence, roles of greater influence by focusing on the advancement of all women as the goal. She’s a mother, thought leader and gamechanger. 

Meet Jennifer Chaplin Tolkin

Andréa: When the pandemic subsides, who are you raising your first glass with and why?

Jennifer: Before the pandemic, my extended family would get together for dinner every Monday night, hence the name, Monday Night Dinner. This tradition started with my late Grandma Arlene more than 30 years ago with just eight people and has now morphed into a 25-person gathering every Monday night. I can’t wait to raise a glass (safely) with my family and celebrate just being together again. 

Andrea: How is the 2021 International Women's Day theme #ChooseToChallenge meaningful to you? What has challenged you as a woman (in a male-dominated industry)?

Jennifer: I want to keep pushing boundaries and making it known that I have just as much grit, passion, and determination as anyone else. Just because I am a woman doesn’t mean I am any less. It doesn’t mean I care less about my job, or more about my family, or vice versa. Both are extremely important priorities to me. The environment is a challenging one, but if we keep chipping away at the iceberg there is no way we can’t win. 

Andrea: Who has inspired you to break the rules or think beyond them as a woman in Wine & Spirits?

Jennifer: This may sound funny, but most recently I’ve found inspiration from within. This past year has forced me to overcome so many different obstacles and I have never given up. I am proud of myself for staying the course. There have been times I didn’t think I could juggle all of the competing responsibilities of being a working mom, but I continue to surprise myself. I am also inspired everyday by my colleagues at Southern Glazer’s. I get to work with people who are just as passionate about diversity & inclusion and getting the job done as I am. Seeing their passion ignites my fire even more and I know together we can inspire so many. 

Andrea: How would you define your tribe or sisterhood that has supported you during your path?  

Jennifer: I am lucky to have several different support systems. My husband, for example, has always been there to gently push me beyond my comfort level. As an executive in his own family’s business, he really relates to my work situation. He knows how far I want to go in my career, and he supports me every step of the way. I couldn’t achieve anything without his guidance, love, and of course, help with our son. My mom has been another influential member of my tribe. She has been the greatest example of how I want to mother, how I want to love, and how I want to stay a positive force for my family. Of course, I can’t forget about my Dad. I think grit, tenacity, honesty, and hard work has been ingrained into my framework from day one because of his example.   

Andrea: What advice would you give to women who want to pursue nontraditional careers that combine their work and passions? 

Jennifer: Never be scared -- everything happens for a reason -- and never give up! I originally studied at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts to become an actress, and when that didn’t work out, I moved on to a talent agency in New York City. When I decided to move back to Miami, I didn’t really know where I would fit in at Southern Glazer’s. I started in events and worked my way to the commercial side of the business where I am beginning to thrive and find my niche. It takes time, and sometimes you have to realize the best thing you can do is ask questions and take it all in. Every experience, good or bad, is a learning opportunity. 

Andrea: How has the pandemic changed your work, industry and outlook?

Jennifer: The pandemic has changed so much for me, and so many. I had my son, Henry, at the end of March 2020 right at the outset of the pandemic. I’ve learned so much about being a woman, a mom and a working mom. Sometimes I can’t wait to get back to working in my office, with my colleagues, and travel for meetings, etc., but then I remember that means spending more time without my baby and family. Although I know it will be hard to separate family life and work life when it's time to get back to in person meetings, I can’t wait to do what I love most, and that’s spending time with the people in our industry and at Southern Glazer’s. I also feel incredibly lucky to work for a company that cares so much about FAMILY.  That commitment to FAMILY was really demonstrated during 2020 – when many of us pivoted to work-from-home, while at the same time, we put in extensive safety protocols and other policies in place to protect our essential frontline employees. It was because of these measures that we were able to continue serving our customers without disruption, while keeping our people healthy and safe. I want to recognize those employees on the frontlines, particularly our warehouse teams and drivers, who really stepped up during this challenging time.

Andrea: What are you most excited about in your work right now? 

Jennifer: Our Industry is begging to be more diverse and more inclusive, and that’s extremely exciting. I feel like I am a part of something way bigger. It’s incredible that the passion for diversity, equality and inclusion is so well aligned with our suppliers’ priorities. They are looking to do business with diverse and inclusive companies that take action to move the needle. I’m lucky that Southern Glazer’s is one of those companies that continues to strive to be better in every way.  I also love getting to work with other family owned companies who have similar values. Integrity, inclusiveness, leadership, honesty, are all a part of my day to day interactions with them.

Andrea: Which wine varieties or styles are most often on your table? Do you have a favorite MSC wine, and a recipe, cuisine or mood to pair with it? 

Jennifer: I love all different kinds of wine, but my go-to is definitely chardonnay. I love the McBride Sisters Collection Chardonnay with my husband’s Brussels sprout salad. It’s shaved raw Brussels sprouts, toasted pine nuts, and shaved Pecorino Romano cheese topped with a light olive oil and lemon dressing.  It’s light and fresh! 

Jennifer, we raise our glass to your triumphs, your hard work and your purpose. We’ve seen you CRUSHING IT for years now and this #WomensHistoryMonth we celebrate you.