Legal Career Paths: From the Legal Industry to the Wine Industry
Published: Mar 23, 2021
Dina Opici is President of Opici Family Distributing, a family-owned wine and spirits wholesale distribution company based in Glen Rock, NJ. Ms. Opici’s start in the wholesale business began in 1998 after she completed law school at Benjamin Cardozo School of Law. Over the past 20 years, Ms. Opici has held various positions within the organization, including Sales Administration, Human Resource Director, and General Counsel. See Ms. Opici’s full bio below.
Vault spoke with Ms. Opici about her path from law school to the wine industry, her work as president of Opici Family Distributing, and which skills are particularly useful for working in the wine industry. Read on for the interview.
Vault: Why did you initially decide to go to law school?
Dina: I think that it had always been something I had been interested in when I was younger. Initially, after my parents divorced, I thought it would be interesting to represent the interests of children in divorce and custody situations. As time went on, I really enjoyed my classes in school that were more government related and jokingly loved watching Law and Order and thought, “I can do this.” It stemmed from an early experience and evolved differently over time.
Vault: Can you share your path from law school to where you are today?
Dina: Throughout law school, I worked for a small corporate law firm of around 20 attorneys. I loved my boss, and I probably would’ve stayed there longer if he hadn’t left the firm. He was moving to a firm that had 200 attorneys, and while he assured me things would remain the same, I wasn’t sure they would, given my friends’ experiences in larger firms. At the same time, my grandfather was around 85 years old and was concerned with the continuity of our family wine business. His thought process was if the next generation—my brother and I—weren’t interested in the business, he would consider going in a different direction. I decided to join the family business straight from law school and see whether it was a good fit for my professional goals. (Spoiler: it was.) So the timing was right in that I loved my law firm job but didn’t want to work at a large firm—and there was simultaneously an invitation to come aboard the family business.
Vault: What are some of your typical duties in your current role as president of Opici Family Distributing?
Dina: In my current role, I have finance, sales, and operations reporting to me, so I spend my time split across all three areas as well as try to give attention to our strategic planning and engagement with our employees so they appreciate that we’re a family-owned business, which is becoming more unique every day. With regards to the finance piece, I’m involved with our banking relationships, and I’m ultimately responsible for our financial performance. On the sale side, I look to be involved with our largest suppliers from a relationship standpoint, while also looking to engage new suppliers. From an operations standpoint, we own all our facilities, so I’m always checking how we manage these things and how we can do better, including our technology—which is really exciting right now—and labor relationships. The part I enjoy more and more is striving to improve on our communication internally as a company, especially during the coronavirus pandemic when it became so relevant. Making sure we’re clear and that our management is carrying down that same message is critical.
Vault: What would surprise most people about your job?
Dina: It’s not so glamorous. I think when people look at the opportunities you have to travel and visit wineries and destinations, it looks glamorous, but it’s work, and it’s time away from home—and ultimately you’re accountable. The beverage industry supports a lifestyle that gives you the opportunity to not just be in an office environment, but you have to balance that. It’s not all wining and dining.
Vault: What types of skills and training are most important for someone aspiring to work in the wine distribution business—specifically at a management level?
Dina: To me, it’s like any business in terms of many of the skills you need. I think having a legal background gives you a great understanding of how to communicate from a business standpoint. My legal experience taught me key communication skills and how to communicate in a diplomatic way. I used to joke that law school taught me how to write letters, but I didn’t realize how valuable that was until I applied it. My experience in law school made me comfortable in those situations; whereas, I wouldn’t have been as comfortable out of college. It gives you a different perspective. That said, one skill that is critical to have in the wine industry is relationship building. In any business, you need to be capable of analytics and management of people, but the difference with the wine industry is the business is really rooted in relationships, and it’s something that I think you have to be comfortable with and also something you have to want to foster and spend time on. I have found that the more time I spend with people, the more business we do with them, and that’s not necessarily true of all businesses.
Vault: What advice do you have for law students and lawyers who want to pursue a career outside of the legal field?
Dina: I think it’s important to be well rounded and be open to new opportunities. I think if you pigeon hole yourself into what the ideal job is, you’re never going to find it. If you go into a job thinking the job description is all you’re going to do, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening. You have to recognize that especially these days, any business is fluid and constantly changing, and you have to be ready to adapt to it.
Get to Know Dina...
- Favorite Law School Class: Tax Law
- Favorite Legal Movie, TV Show, Book, or Podcast: Legally Blonde
- Favorite Hobby: Golf and tennis
- Lawyer (alive or deceased) you’d most like to have dinner with: Michelle Obama
- If I wasn’t president of Opici Family distributing, I would be a: Real estate broker
- Favorite Wine: Pinot Noir—Julia James Pinot Noir if I had to choose a specific wine
Dina Opici is President of Opici Family Distributing, a family-owned wine and spirits wholesale distribution company based in Glen Rock, NJ. Opici Family Distributing was formed in NJ in 1934 by Joseph and Esther Opici, Ms. Opici’s great-grandparents. Hubert Opici, her grandfather, took over responsibility for the NJ wholesale business in 1944. Through the years, the family has established a national import company and expanded its distribution business into New York; Connecticut; Washington, DC; Delaware; and Maryland.
Ms. Opici’s start in the wholesale business began in 1998 after she completed law school at Benjamin Cardozo School of Law. At a time when the industry was consumed by consolidation, Ms. Opici saw the opportunity for a family-owned business to succeed independently and left the law profession to work with her family. In an environment where corporate consolidation has eliminated many family-owned businesses, Ms. Opici feels that their long-standing business relationships and corporate integrity have allowed their business to survive and prosper.
Over the past 20 years, Ms. Opici has held various positions within the organization, including Sales Administration, Human Resource Director, and General Counsel. Ms. Opici was asked to be the first Chairwoman of the WSWA Women’s Leadership Counsel and led the Advisory Board for three years as they established their mission as well as looked to bring women leaders in the industry together through events including the Annual WLC Conference which took place in September 2017. Ms. Opici is married and lives in Purchase, NY, with her husband and two children.
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