Walking the Walk: A Live Chat with Terry Arnold

The senior vice president for human resources at America's largest wine wholesaler talks about his military upbringing, wine's business culture and promoting diverse leadership in the industry

Walking the Walk: A Live Chat with Terry Arnold
Terry Arnold has enjoyed working in wine and wants to encourage more young Black people to explore a career in the industry. (Courtesy of Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits)
Aug 27, 2020

Terry Arnold probably didn't realize it when he joined the U.S. Army straight out of college, but his greatest weapon throughout life has been his people skills. During nine years as an officer, then 16 years climbing the corporate ladder at companies like General Electric and Southern Glazer's Wine and Spirits, the nation's largest wine distributor, Arnold has created a culture where people can work together for big goals. In the latest episode of Straight Talk with Wine Spectator, Arnold spoke with executive editor Thomas Matthews about embracing corporate culture at GE, encouraging diversity and inclusion at Southern Glazer's, and the latter company's partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

A native of Jacksonville, Fla., Arnold attended Florida A&M University on an ROTC scholarship, and was commissioned as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army upon graduation. He served for nine years as an active duty soldier before resigning his commission in 1998.

Joining in the Human Resources Leadership Program at GE, Arnold spent 16 years at the corporate giant. During that time, he filled various positions, from plant manager to quality control to selling aircraft engines before taking on HR assignments full-time. Eventually, he and his wife, Denise, a retired colonel, moved back to Florida, where Arnold joined the nation's largest wine distributor in 2017 as senior vice president of human resources.

From the beginning, Arnold was enamored by the wine business. "It is a very family-oriented, walk–the-walk, talk-the-talk culture and that was an immediate attraction," Arnold said.

He has become an instrumental figure in Southern's diversity and inclusion initiatives. "When you talk about diversity and inclusion, diversity is the noun and inclusion is the verb," he said. "Our starting point was understanding where we are and talking about where we want to go."

The company's actions are now coming to fruition as partnerships with Harvard Business School and Columbia University. The goal is to diversify high-level positions at the 20,000-person company by helping women and people of color become decision makers. One of Southern's most recent accomplishments was a partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), which Arnold says has become an "intern pipeline" for the company.

"Thurgood Marshall allows us to touch a lot of kids and students that look like me and come from backgrounds like me who have a lot to offer to corporate America," he said. "Of the 26 interns we had in our virtual intern class [this year], six are members of the TMCF."

As protests around the nation continue to call attention to racial injustice, Arnold says he is optimistic about what the future holds, but remains realistic. Following the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the diversity and inclusion team at Southern put together conversations for employees to discuss their reactions. A total of 6,500 employees participated.

"What the country is seeing collectively now, a lot of us Black and brown people have been seeing that for their entire lives," he said. "We recognize that there's hurt that's been caused, there's understanding that needs to take place and a whole lot of listening."

Watch the full episode with Arnold on Wine Spectator's IGTV channel, and tune in to catch Straight Talk with Wine Spectator every Tuesday and Thursday. Tonight, executive editor Thomas Matthews will chat with Restaurant Award-winning wine director Tonya Pitts as part of a month of highlighting Black voices in the wine industry.

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