Ice T Headlines Opening of WSWA 2019

Don’t just keep it real — keep it honest.

These were among the words of business wisdom offered by rapper, actor and entrepreneur Ice T in his keynote speech at the 76th annual Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America convention. The annual event kicked off this week in Orlando, bringing together thousands of alcohol wholesalers and producers for four days of education, networking and deal-making.

Since WSWA launched 70+ years ago, the industry has undergone immense change. This includes consolidation of wholesalers and retailers, as well as people pushing for the elimination of the middle tier. Incoming WSWA Chairman Sydney Ross cautioned against such drastic action during his speech in the opening ceremonies.

“Before the 21st century, criminals ran the alcohol industry, and still do in other countries,” he said. “None of these things happen in America, and that’s because of the 21st Amendment, and the wholesale tier.”

The 2019 Lifetime Leadership Award went to Mel Dick, Senior Vice President and Wine Division President at Southern Glazer’s. “WSWA seeks solutions to emerging consumer trends,” he said during his acceptance speech. “One example of that is [WSWA investment] Drizly, which allows digital alcohol service that is legal and safe.”

DISCUS President and CEO Chris Swonger announced a new joint campaign alongside Michelle Korsmo, WSWA president and CEO, entitled Think Responsibly. It’s intended to help younger, Millennial-aged drinkers make good decisions with their drinking plans. The campaign includes digital assets, POS materials and an online quiz that can help lead people towards better decision-making.


Opening ceremonies concluded with Ice T’s speech. It covered his career rise from common criminal to successful businessman. “If you had met me 40 years ago, you would have said, ‘Lock him up and throw away the keys’,” Ice T said. “Now I’m trying to get onto the Forbes list, because hustling is hustling, and business sense is business sense.”

Ice T lost both of his parents before his teens, and grew up in a world where most of his friends ended up in prison. He became a father in the 12th grade, and a bank robber not long after that. How did he turn it around so dramatically?

“I learned that it’s not about being mad about everything,” he said. “It’s about being mad at the right things. And when you produce negative things, that’s because you’ve lost hope. You think, ‘Why even try’.”

He urged attendees to learn from his success that obstacles can be overcome with the right attitude, hard work, and above all else, honesty.

“My career has skyrocketed just because I tell the truth,” he said. “That’s how rare that is in the world: people who are honest, that becomes a brand.”

Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Wholesaler. Reach him at or on Twitter @kswartzz or Instagram @cheers_magazine. Read his recent piece Interview: Woodford Reserve’s Chris Morris and Elizabeth McCall on Wheat Whiskey, Mint Juleps and More.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here