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Former WSU Regent, Wine Executive Says Being A Coug Paved Path to Success

When it comes to describing his time at Washington State University, alumnus Ted Baseler, president and CEO of Washington’s Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, does not equivocate.

“Fantastic from Day 1,” he said. “The whole idea of a college town, being with people your own age, away from home, but not too far away from home; I really felt like I was learning beyond just the classroom experience of education.”

Ted Baseler
Ted Baseler

A native of Bellevue, Wash., Baseler had never been to Pullman before he arrived in the fall of 1972 to attend classes. He majored in communications with a focus on advertising. “I had great professors,” he remembered. “The head of the advertising department, Ed Bannister, for example. He took a lot of interest in students and a very practical approach in class.”

Professor Bannister was the one who encouraged Baseler to attend Northwestern University in Chicago to pursue his master’s degree.

“That was quite a significant transition,” Baseler said. “I arrived at Northwestern in my little pick-up, wearing Levis, a flannel shirt and hiking boots, while most of the other students were in blue blazers with their family crests on the lapel.”

Upon graduation, he took a job in advertising at J. Walter Thompson in Chicago, one of the largest advertising firms in the country. There, he handled accounts like Gerber Baby Food, Kraft and Ford Motor Co.

“I gained a lot of experience and had great mentors,” Baseler said. And, then, there was an opportunity to return to the Pacific Northwest.

“I landed a great job in Seattle and one of my accounts was this little, not very valuable at the time, winery in Woodinville. The vice president of marketing for Ste. Michelle was promoted to president and asked if I wanted his job. I said, ‘Why not?’”

Today, Baseler is president and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, the oldest and one of the most successful wineries in the state. Under his leadership, Chateau Ste. Michelle has received numerous honors including being named American Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine in 2005.

He has been a great supporter of WSU’s viticulture and enology program. “I’ve fought in the legislature and worked with the university’s administration to have a world-class program so people from all over the world could come here to be trained for work in the wine industry,” he said. “The V&E program is just one more bit of shine and patina for what is already a world-class university.”

Baseler also has worked to support his alma mater as a member of the WSU Board of Regents. Appointed to the board by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire in February 2006, he especially focused on expanding access to higher education. Specifically, he and his wife Joanne, also a WSU graduate, created the Chateau Ste. Michelle Diversity Scholarship to help students from undeserved populations attend WSU.

Baseler also serves on the WSU Foundation Board of Trustees, sits on the board of the Washington Wine Commission and is former director of the Washington Wine Institute. He also has served on the boards of the Seattle Repertory Theater and the Seattle Children’s Hospital Foundation.

In large part, Baseler attributes his great success to his WSU education.

“When I graduated from WSU, I had the ability to solve problems and really understood that that’s what life is really about,” he said. “I learned, using the facts at hand and quantitative information, first to identify the problem and then solve it. Having those finals every year one right after another – that’s what life is like, too.”

So for Baseler, what does it mean to be a Coug?

“It’s with you wherever you go,” he said. “It means seeing problems as opportunities not as impasses. Maybe it’s because of those years of adversity on the athletic field or always competing with University of Washington, but we are successful because we’re full of Cougar persistence. That underdog attitude is very healthy.”

–Kathy Barnard
CAHNRS and WSU Extension Marketing, News and Educational Communications