Wine and spirits have taken Pratham Wahi a long way.
As a child in India, colorful bottles with strange and wonderful labeling took him toward his father’s cupboard, where, transfixed by the exotic languages from all around the world, a seed was planted.
A little older, they took him to a vineyard on the Western Cape of South Africa for his first job, where a charitable act of covering for a sick colleague led to an “aha” moment about his passion for the industry. Five years and 3 countries later he was in Paris and HEC, where that passion withstood the winking, beckoning call of a corporate career in consulting or finance.
Since graduation in 2018, it’s been Hong Kong. There, a gaudy position in a startup with all the promise in the world came to an abrupt, COVID-tinged halt. Rather than allowing the furlough to be a setback, Pratham pivoted and founded his own company.
And what keeps him going?
“I’m not running away from it, it is what it is,” he laughs, “I’m a wine geek. You’ve got to be one to succeed here.”
“Here,” of course, is in the worldwide wine and spirits business, where, in Pratham’s words, “unless you speak the language, you won’t succeed.”
Pratham is the self-styled Head Tippler at SupplyDeli, the Hong Kong-based, business-to-business distribution, direct-to-consumer e-commerce and regional distribution firm he founded in 2020. The HEC Paris MBA alum is – along with four languages – fluent in the tongue of wine and spirits, but it was the pursuit of fluency in another area, the brass tacks of business, which led him to HEC Paris for his MBA.
Thirsty for Knowledge
“HEC Paris is strong in luxury,” Pratham says. “That’s something that really caught my eye. I wanted to expand my network to include people from the traditional French luxury maisons.”
That dual desire – to grow his network at the source and to grow his knowledge – is what cemented his attraction to HEC Paris.
“It’s one of the best schools in Europe, and its alumni network is second to none. I did research on other schools, and none had alumni networks as active. From then, it was HEC or bust for me. Either I was going to get in on the first attempt, or I was going to try again the following year.”
It only took him one attempt. Once he arrived on campus, he was fully immersed. The program itself, described by Pratham as “a new challenge every day,” molded him into the decisive entrepreneur he is today.
“There are so many smart people there: your classmates, your professors, the random guy you sit next to during lunch – everyone. With so much to learn, something as simple as an everyday conversation just makes you feel smarter.”
Smarter, certainly, but far more practical, too. Pratham credits his project within the Entrepreneurship Specialization (coordinated by Affiliate Professor Michel Safars) and his project teammates Jason Tobias and Kosuke Yamada as instrumental in molding him into the finely tuned model of efficiency he is today.
“Part of what was instilled in me during the specialization was a thought of ‘yes, you’ve got a great idea and a great strategy in place and a beautiful Excel spreadsheet, but you need to be able to execute it, too’.” he explains. “If you really want to get something done, just pick up the phone and do it.”
He has whole-heartedly incorporated this vision into both his personal life and his work life. The latter case is, in fact, perfectly illustrated by a recent entrepreneurial foray into his own recently launched wine brand, Maison Le Midi.
“Because of the ‘pick up and do it’ attitude, I reached out to existing clients and distributors to find out what their pain points were. I took those pain points, sourced suppliers, created a solution and pitched the brand to importers in about 2 weeks.”
Pratham’s Maison Le Midi brand, part of a grander SupplyDeli adventure that he’d been plotting for years, sounds like a roaring success. In many ways, it is – the brand just launched in Hong Kong. By the end of 2021, he intends to export the wine to at least 6 new countries in Asia. He just never imagined having to launch it as soon as he did.
“I was forced to start SupplyDeli a year before I ever envisioned doing so because of COVID.”
The common denominator that colored so many peoples’ 2020 left Pratham momentarily out of a job.
“I got furloughed,” he says of a position where he was responsible for the Profit and Loss for the Asia-Pacific Region at Milestone Beverages. “I had to start my own company to pay the bills.”
In the wine and spirits business, lifelong passion, global connections and international perspectives often coalesce into the type of can’t-miss ideas that make paying the bills a lot easier.
“I’m a very strong believer in the idea that businesses working in distribution need to control their own destinies,” Pratham muses. “Beyond having a strong network, the way to do that is to control the brands you sell and distribute. As a brand owner, you control your own fate. Plus, vertical integration reaps its own added benefits to the bottom line.”
A byproduct of being the owner of a young, burgeoning wine-and-spirits distribution company is mentoring young, burgeoning spirits in need of a good leader.
“My 16 months at HEC Paris was a great learning experience for me on that front,” he says of his leadership positions during his MBA, where he served as VP of the Africa Club and a Director for the MBA Council.
“I always thought my satisfaction would come from success in business; I never thought that being a mentor to anyone would give me any personal satisfaction,” he says. “It’s something that’s very new to me.”
Part of the satisfaction he derives from mentorship is passing down the ever-expanding body of knowledge accrued through years of passionate commitment to his work.
“An MBA helps one gain knowledge and build emphatical viewpoints, but moreover understand biases, networks, motivation and power. These are skills that are needed to lead,” he says. “If anyone wants to grow to a mid- to senior-level position with a global business, or to be an entrepreneur, a great way to do it is an MBA.”