Bertha González Nieves (MSJ97): CEO & Co-Founder of Tequila Casa Dragones

What is your current role?

I’m the Co-Founder and CEO of Tequila Casa Dragones. As Chief Executive Officer, my main responsibilities are to create, develop and manage a portfolio of sipping tequilas, and lead our entire team in the U.S. and Mexico.

What led you to start a tequila company? Did you always have that interest in the food or alcohol business, or was it a sudden inspiration?

While completing my undergraduate program in Mexico City, I was studying business administration and was selected by the Japanese government to represent Mexico in a program in Japan. As part of my training for this program, I was invited to travel all over Mexico, visiting many different, top industries of the country in order to learn about them and be able to speak eloquently about Mexico’s economy.

As part of those trips, I was invited to go to Tequila, Jalisco, for three days to visit agave fields and different distilleries. At the end of the trip, I called my parents and told them, “I know what I want to do. I want to go into the tequila industry.” I was really taken by the beauty of the plant and the whole process.

When I had the chance to go to Japan, I began to truly understand how tequila serves as a window into Mexican culture. Meaning, when you ask people from around the world about Mexico and you ask them to name five things that represent Mexico, tequila is almost always part of that answer. The idea that tequila is truly a part of the social fabric of Mexico really captivated me. So I began to prepare for a career in the industry. 

I worked in management consulting after finishing my undergraduate in Mexico, and then I did the Medill IMC program. I also took as many courses as I could at Kellogg, to complement my experience. When I graduated, I went and knocked on the doors of the tequila industry thinking that with my background I could get a pretty good job. And that’s how I got started.

After working for a decade for the oldest and most established tequila producer in the world, I realized that I have the heart of an entrepreneur.  I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs and when I was younger I embarked on many small entrepreneurial ventures. So, after a decade of working for someone else’s company, I realized that I wanted to run my own business.

I started obsessing about the opportunity of becoming an entrepreneur in the tequila category, producing my own tequila, and really having the opportunity to deliver the best possible product. That’s where my journey to build my own company started.

How did your experience at Medill shape your approach to entrepreneurship and to the whole marketing aspect while building your company?

I can’t just attribute it to one thing or another specifically.  However, I definitely think that having the opportunity to go through the IMC program and take other important classes as well, such as entrepreneurship, gave me more ammunition for my career. The opportunity to go to the top marketing school in the U.S. really gave me a very wide perspective of not only marketing, but also of public relations, advertising, direct marketing statistics, consumer behavior, and entrepreneurship, which completely opened my perspective. I would say it’s really a combination of factors. I believe that having had the opportunity to go to Northwestern was and will forever be a turning point in my career.

When you came to Medill, did you envision a future plan, and once you graduated, did you still have that same vision in mind or did Medill change your perspective?

Medill confirmed my interest in going into brand management. When I graduated, I began looking for a role in brand management in the tequila category. I think the classes that I took and how I approached what I was learning helped, and as my career progressed, I was able to keep many of these learnings   as real anchors and real support for my own experience.

I didn’t know that I was going to be able to become a successful entrepreneur. Coming from Mexico City, having had  the opportunity to go to Medill, and to receive a scholarship, was in a way very entrepreneurial for me, and gave me valuable experience to become an entrepreneur. 

How has the Medill network helped you throughout building your career?

I did an internship in an advertising agency, and that was really interesting because it was a window into the world of advertising and marketing, and ultimately brand building. Then, when I graduated, it was very helpful to be able to leverage many of the different companies that had come to Medill. I knew I wanted to go into the tequila industry, and I had to use my own network to accomplish that. However, I tried to stay close to the university because I believe that the impact that it had on my career was truly important.

Can you speak of a time that stands out to you from your time at Medill?

When I graduated, they gave me the Arthur E. Tatham award, which is given to a student with a standing promise in marketing communications. That was a pretty big moment for me. Plus, it was a monetary award that enabled me to actually have a little bit more money to be able to wait for the right job, which was incredibly helpful.

Other things stand out as well, such as the impact from some of Medill’s excellent roster of professors, such as Stanley Tannenbaum, who is no longer with us. His role in the advertising world was really incredible, the way that he taught us and the way that he inspired us was a great experience. We also had the chance to work with the speech writers that had worked with Bill Clinton, for example. It was always so exciting to be able to be sitting in front of such experienced professors, whether in media, writing, journalism, or in advertising.

Finally, what still stands out to me were the people that I met there, the richness of the program, the beauty of Chicago and Evanston, and the high academic level of Northwestern. Since then, I’ve been back to both Medill and Kellogg for different invitations. It’s really an extraordinary school and I feel very proud and grateful to have a connection to it.

How has your work at Medill made a difference in your career?

I immediately went into brand management and it helped me find my passion. Of course, tequila is my passion, but in the end, it’s all about building a brand, a successful product, and a very high-quality product. So, I think that my experience at Medill helped me understand that there was a real passion for me in this field, and it gave me the tools to get there and actually do it.

If you could give advice to someone who’s entering Medill or thinking about joining Medill, what would you tell them?

The university has so much to offer that it is up to the student to make that really work for you. You need to be truly curious about what you’re learning and be proactive and interactive with your professors and accept the challenge. If you do, you’re going to get so much out of the experience and gain valuable skills for your life.

For me personally, Northwestern also awakened an interest in academia; it infused me with the idea of constantly looking for new courses. It’s up to you to really stay curious.