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Tapping Into a New Market

David Ingram's strategic pivot into beer distribution pays dividends

David B. Ingram
Chair, Owen Graduate School of Management Board of Visitors
Chairman and President, Ingram Entertainment Inc.; Chairman, DBI Beverage Inc.

When the going got tough, David Ingram got into beer. As the Great Recession began, Ingram Entertainment faced a challenging marketplace for distributing DVDs, video games and other home entertainment products. In response, Ingram launched an entirely new business — DBI Beverage — operating beer distributorships.

It may have seemed an unusual choice, but it was a calculated one. By 2007, the video business had so thoroughly changed that less than 10 percent of sales went through wholesale distribution channels. Beer was different. “Picking beer,” Ingram explains, “was the culmination of a concerted effort to look for an industry that would likely undergo consolidation and play to the strengths of our management team.”

And Ingram didn’t abandon the home entertainment business. Instead, he leveraged the individual strengths of his two companies to help each succeed. Industry giants noticed. Pete Coors, Chairman of Molson Coors Brewing Co. and MillerCoors, became well acquainted with Ingram. “David,” he says, “is a creative and innovative thinker who is always in search of new ways to improve and grow his business.”

Jim Bradford, Owen’s dean from 2005 to 2013, noticed, too. When he established a Board of Visitors to serve as a strategic partner to the school, he asked Ingram to lead it. Just as he had helped his own companies evolve and grow, the Board of Visitors under Ingram’s leadership helped Bradford launch several innovative new programs at Owen, including the Health Care MBA, the Master of Management in Healthcare, the MS Finance and Master of Accounting, and the Summer Business Accelerator.

For both Vanderbilt and his own companies, Ingram was simply applying a lesson he had learned from his father, Bronson: “In any business, if you’re not growing, you’re dying.”