All Articles Leadership Inspiration The luxury of leadership

The luxury of leadership

The founder of high-end tequila brand Clase Azul shares his life's lessons.

6 min read


Clase Azul

Clase Azul

SmartBrief illustration

This is the latest in a series called Lead Human, which features interviews and profiles conducted by Elliot Begoun in search of answers to the question “What is it like to be a leader?”

I was fascinated by the artistry of the bottle. It was handcrafted, made of ceramic and beautifully hand-painted. I knew this bottle of tequila would be an experience best reserved for a special occasion. After seeing the bottle, I decided to do some research on the company, Clase Azul, and what I learned was equally interesting.

The company’s stated purpose is to initiate a shift from our current reality to encourage individual transformation. Not your typical mission statement. I further learned that its founder, Arturo Lomeli, made a commitment to prioritizing his people’s values and development before revenue.

The company works with local ceramic artists in Santa María Canchesda, Mexico, to make its bottles and points to the human benefit of doing so, as it has brought jobs, education and opportunity to the village.

Lomeli once wrote, “If asked if I’d do it again. I’d say yes without hesitation, mainly because of what the brand and the company have done for me. However, like many entrepreneurial journeys, I probably would have done things differently. I would have followed the advice from the hundreds of business, entrepreneurism books, and magazines I read. I would have implemented the principles learned while studying for my masters in Marketing, and I would have applied the recommendations given by all of the successful businessmen and experts. I may have even brought down my own stubbornness. On second thought, I probably would have failed if I did so.”

When the opportunity presented to interview with Lomeli, I was excited to do so. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

What keeps you up at night?

“How we keep scaling the company without losing the core values. We are trying to stay away from the temptation of growing and putting all our efforts into volume, cases, revenue and profit.”

He is also concerned with “how we balance growth and keep providing to our people internally and the customers externally the essence of who we are. The energy that we can spread.”

“Obviously there are no books or tactics that tell us how to do that, it’s about leadership. It’s about sharing. It’s about not complaining and moving forward.”

I asked him how they maintain that essence. “We have a clear purpose, values, mission and ambition.”

What have you learned about leadership?

“What makes companies succeed or fail is people. I believe people are much more important than a company’s service or products. If you have the right people, that energy will spread. We are following a luxury strategy. Luxury is a social phenomenon. A luxury strategy has to be tied to the people who buy, the people who create, the people who manufacture, and the people who sell. It’s always about people.”

Lomeli went to share a core philosophy, “No one in this company is going to be fired for making mistakes. In fact, everybody here makes mistakes. We commit ourselves to not doing it again. We’ll fire someone immediately if they go against our values. If they aren’t honest. If they don’t know how to work as a team player. If they don’t take the responsibility or understand what we are doing. It’s a big chain of factors and if the core fails, we cannot sell an $1,800 bottle of tequila.”

What have you learned about connecting with and motivating people?

“You can work with everybody. You can smile at everybody, you can shake hands with everybody, but you can’t give direct orders to all the organization. We have now 220 direct employees. So, what I do first is be totally institutional in terms of not getting in the middle of the line of power with bosses and employees. So that means if some employee approaches me with some concern, I turn and say, ‘It sounds that you have to talk with your boss.’”

What’s been a key to your success?

“Being different, it’s fuel for me. Being unique. Why do something other companies are already doing? Let’s try to do something where we can be the only ones. Our goal is to create that kingdom. We don’t need a big kingdom, we just need a place where people enjoy our brand, our essence, our values, and are satisfied with the way that we think, with the way that we create, with the way that we produce, and more importantly the way that we give back.”

What’s been the biggest challenge in building this company?

“Forgiving myself.”

I asked Lomeli about the need for forgiveness.

“When I started the company, I was traveling and I was following the route of alcohol. I was married but I didn’t put a lot of time into my marriage and it ended in a divorce. We have a fantastic relationship and my kids are growing and healthy. But, I think I could do better if I could go back. I didn’t have the balance in the beginning to manage both. I’m doing it now. I have a new wife, I take care of my ex-wife and my kids are great. I’ve found the balance now.”

What’s a luxury strategy?

“A luxury strategy is not about creating something unique. It’s about behaving in a luxury way. You don’t react to provocation of the competitors. You don’t talk badly about other brands. You don’t position yourself with the competitors. A luxury strategy is about being unique. A luxury strategy is about being proud of what you do and keep doing it. It’s saying, I’m this and I’m really proud of being this and I’m always going to be it.”

Passionately, he continued, “Luxury is not about having, it’s about being and we have to change that mentality. You can be rich with one tenth of what other people have if you find the context of living with joy. That’s where we are moving and I think that’s the biggest part of our essence or DNA.”

What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?

“Follow your intuition. Always.”


Elliot Begoun is the principal of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on helping emerging food and beverage brands grow. He works with clients to design and execute customized route-to-market and go-to-market strategies that build velocity, gain distribution, and win share of stomach. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and FoodDive.

Want to become a growing brand that is sustainable and investable? Learn more.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have an email in partnership with the Culinary Institute of America for wine and beverage professionals.