WBI Executive Director Ray Johnson retiring from SSU

Tuesday, April 2, 2024, 1:15pm

TO: Campus Community
FR: Michael Visser, Interim Dean, School of Business and Economics

It is with mixed emotions that I ask you to join me in extending profound thanks and all good wishes to Ray Johnson as he retires in May from his position as Executive Director of the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University.

In 2010, Ray joined SSU as Director of the Wine Business Institute (WBI) – an education and research institute in the SSU School of Business and Economics – after serving as Assistant Director of the San Francisco Wine Competition for 14 years and teaching wine seminars through his own business, TasteWine. During his tenure, Ray oversaw a significant increase in annual enrollment and revenue for SSU wine business programs. He has helped to secure more than $10 million in support for leadership in wine business education and research, created an online certificate program in Wine Business Management, strengthened and deepened relationships between the wine industry and SSU, and expanded access for students to wine industry careers, scholarships, and internships.

In January 2012, under Ray’s leadership, the WBI launched the Executive Wine MBA, the first executive MBA program in the nation focused on the wine business, and four months later helped found Sonoma State Cellars, which provided students with hands-on experience in creating and selling a wine brand.

In 2014, the WBI announced plans for a new building to house the WBI and its programs. Ray led the fundraising campaign and was instrumental in securing commitments from many individual donors, including a $3 million gift from Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Wine Spectator magazine, the largest ever individual gift to the SBE.  

Ray was promoted to Executive Director in 2016 and, after overseeing the construction and opening of the Wine Spectator Learning Center on campus in 2018 has expanded programs and events at the Center, including activities related to alumni engagement, student learning, and faculty development and research projects. He also led the launches of an online Wine Sales Management program and the online Executive Wine MBA program. 

Ray was also a key architect of and champion for the Wine Industry Scholars Program (WISP), a scholarship program that is dedicated to supporting the access, retention, and graduation of students who are children of vineyard and winery workers. WISP offers approximately $150,000 in scholarships annually.  His dedicated stewardship of WISP, as well as many other WBI programs and initiatives, is a hallmark of the kind of commitment that Ray has to the advancement of wine business education and support for our students.

“Ray is a tireless advocate for Sonoma State University and the WBI, which was a pioneer in providing wine business education and research through innovative programming and robust partnerships with the wine community and remains an international leader in wine business education to this day,” President Mike Lee said. 

Provost Moranski noted that, “Ray’s knowledge of the wine business and wine community, his experience as a teacher and business owner, and his passion for introducing students to a new educational frontier and helping them succeed through industry-focused learning and scholarships has secured a bright future for the WBI and Sonoma State’s wine business academic programs."

I am personally grateful to have been able to work with Ray on at least a small number of many successful programs and initiatives, and am humbled by the modesty and also genuine joy with which he has approached this impactful work.  A search is underway for Ray’s successor, which means we still have time to personally thank him and wish him well. Please join me in doing exactly that.  

Thank you, Ray.