Sharing a conference table with Adams Hub mentor Carlo Luri is always surprising. Pick his brain, and you’ll discover education and career experience that spans chemical engineering, sales, finance, regulatory compliance, manufacturing, environmental sciences, agriculture and…whiskey distilling. As head of governmental affairs for Bently Enterprises, Carlo is hard at work on legislation to form new category of distillery for Nevada, the Estate Distillery. (More on that later.)
As a mentor, Carlo says one of the greatest challenges is “not to put too strong an imprint on the advice you give.” That thoughtful attitude is also apparent as he interacts with Adams Hub incubator companies and members of Entrepreneurs Assembly. He recognizes that different people approach company-building differently, having worked in the build-and-flip Silicon Valley culture and as part of the family-owned Bently Nevada.
His journey to Northern Nevada began in New York as the son of Northern Italian immigrants, took him to Geneva, Switzerland for high school, and then back to New York to attend Cornell. Armed with a degree in chemical engineering, he began a career in…sales. After seven years he was back at school, this time at Rutgers University, where he received a Master’s in Environmental Science. His career path eventually led him west, to a Silicon Valley startup that was cleaning up old semiconductor manufacturing sites.
“That was where I learned that the sales forecast for every startup was, Year One, $1 million, Year Three, $10 million, and Year Five, $100 million,” he laughs. “That’s where I also learned the lesson about managing investor expectations.”
After a stint with a Southern California environmental cleanup company, his next role took him to Nevada to work with Costner Industries Nevada Corp (CINC). In sales for CINC, Carlo traveled the globe prototyping and testing the company’s liquid-liquid centrifuge technology, which had gained notoriety as a solution for cleaning up oil spills, in the pharmaceutical sector. Carlo’s education in chemical engineering proved invaluable in highly technical, industrial sales.
Seven years into his work with CINC, he met Don Bently, founder of Bently Nevada. Bentley, a peripatetic engineer-inventor, was involved with a long-term engineering venture, but, Carlo says with admiration, “One day he said he wanted to make fuel.” Bently was in the biofuels industry for ten years, until the market became too difficult. The Bently sons eventually took over the company from their father, and their mini-conglomerate in Minden now includes Bently Ranch, which was founded in 1997 and produces grassfed beef. Bently Ranch is moving toward all-organic production that will include farming grains for the distillery.
And that’s Carlo found himself in the whiskey business. Carlo has been involved with the Minden Heritage Distillery project for last 2 years, which includes the renovation of a former flour mill, a building on the National Register of Historic Places, to modern LEED standards.
Carlo’s professional role in the company, which prides itself on its people, went from sales to operations and found its way to governmental affairs. As Director of Governmental Affairs at Bently, he deals with local, state and federal officials, or, as he likes to joke, “I’m in charge of the government.”
Somewhere in all of this Carlo managed to get his MBA from UNR, too.
“But now I realize I probably should’ve gotten a law degree!” he says.
The launch of Bently Estate Distillery will be much sweeter if SB189 is passed, creating a new Estate Distillery category. Alcohol production is highly regulated in Nevada, and organized into three tiers: a company can be only a producer, wholesaler, or retailer. While Craft Distilleries would remain small-batch producers at a maximum of 50,000 cases, Estate Distillers would be able to produce at volume, using ingredients grown on the premises, like estate wineries, and sell their product to distributors.
Echoing a common trait of entrepreneurs, Carlo states, “I fix problems.” When asked about a “day in the life” of a problem solver, he cites an amusingly concrete example.
“There’s this light pole in front of the distillery that we really need to have removed,” he laughs. This “do-whatever-needs-to-done” attitude gives him keen insight into the issues of the small business owners he mentors, who out of necessity must wear many hats.
He believes his breadth of work experience also enables him to approach problems with an open mind. “If you’re a marketer, you may approach challenges as marketing problems. If you’re a finance person, it’s a finance problem. I have a lot of experiences to draw on and I think that helps me give balanced guidance.”
When not lobbying the state legislature, you’ll find Carlo enjoying the great outdoors, often with his fifteen-year-old sons. They mountain bike, paddleboard, kayak and ski. Carlo recently helped to launch a new interscholastic mountain biking league for middle and high schools. He’s also active on the Carson Valley Trails Association board.
Why does he mentor?
“It’s a learning experience for me. I’m always learning new stuff. I like to keep my finger on pulse of what’s going in community, business, technology. I like to have fun and give back.”