Pamplin alumna shares insights from her varied and accomplished career
Anisya Fritz is quick to say that her life journey from India to California wine country has been winding, unscripted, and definitely enhanced by having gone through Blacksburg.
Her career has spanned academia, disaster relief, and overseeing the customer experience at a winery in California’s Sonoma County. Though each of those roles have been very different, Fritz credits her graduate education at Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business with preparing her to adapt to different situations and make an impact across multiple fields.
Fritz arrived in the United States from India at age 17, carrying just one small red suitcase, to begin her college studies at Loyola University Maryland. She earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. from Pamplin College’s management program, with a focus on strategy, and served as a graduate assistant to former Professor and Department Head Robert Litschert.
“One thing Dr. Litschert told me and I’ve used in any endeavor I’ve ever done is that if you ask the right questions, the answers will become apparent, and if they don’t, then keep going and ask better questions,” Fritz said recently while sharing her insights with Pamplin students and faculty as part of the Wells Fargo Distinguished Speaker Series.
Today, Fritz oversees customer experiences at the Lynmar Estate winery she and her husband, Lynn Fritz, own in California’s Sonoma County. It’s a very different responsibility than those she had earlier in her career, which included being an associate professor at Florida International University, serving as CEO of a logistics company, and co-founding a nonprofit – the Fritz Institute – that identified and helped to apply best practices in logistics to humanitarian relief projects around the world.
Nevertheless, Fritz said she has continued to apply many strategic principles she learned in Pamplin throughout her varying professional roles. These include assessing business challenges, identifying data to help make better decisions, and building networks of people with similar concerns so that the collective intelligence of groups can be harnessed.
“Did I know logistics at first – no,” Fritz said during her lecture. “Did I know disaster relief – no, but I knew how to ask questions and develop a strategic framework. … The field of humanitarian relief is pretty chaotic, but over the 10 years we worked in it we were able to address a few issues in some pretty substantial ways by creating a community of practice, developing technology, and publishing our findings and doing research.”
Through her work with the institute, Fritz literally helped define the field of humanitarian supply chain management. Starting in the early 2000s, the Fritz Institute became a driving force for research and collaboration that has led to numerous improvements in how humanitarian relief is provided.
The institute launched conferences and played a key role developing a humanitarian logistics software platform, HELIOS, that is used by Oxfam and other leading relief groups. Today, the Fritz Institute partners with more than 150 groups, including humanitarian organizations such as the United Nations and Red Cross/Red Crescent Society, government agencies such as the World Bank and the United States Agency for International Development, multiple global corporations, over 25 universities, and more than a dozen foundations and charitable organizations.
Owning and operating a small winery also offers numerous complex challenges, Fritz said, adding that when they decided to focus on Lynmar Estate full time, “My husband and I didn’t know much about wine, but we did know about business.”
They recognized that, in a crowded industry like wine, they would have to find ways to differentiate themselves in order to succeed. The solution they came up with was to engage customers directly, providing not just bottles of wine but unforgettable experiences for people who visit their vineyard. A guiding insight, Fritz said, was that, “The wine business is not just a product business but a joy business.”
To build on that insight, she and her husband made dramatic changes to how their winery operates compared to how it worked before they acquired it.
“We looked to create a system so we can sell wine directly to people and not be so reliant on [distributors or] anyone else,” Fritz explained. “We built a CRM system, developed a hospitality system, and seek to know every customer.”
Unlike many wineries, Lynmar Estate offers lodging on the property. And it has three chefs onsite, allowing Fritz and her team to carefully pair wines with food for visitors and guests. Her vineyards primarily produce Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and her chief winemaker, Peter Soergel, is also a Hokie, having earned his degree in horticulture from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Sustainability is a guiding principle for Lynmar Estate, Fritz said. Located in a region that has been dramatically affected by climate change, her winery is not just carbon neutral, but carbon negative.
“Climate change is a question that’s pressing in our industry that everyone is aware of,” she said. “It’s a question our trade association is engaged in. There are a lot of little initiatives and big initiatives that are going on. … We are fully engaged, doing our part through regenerative farming, carbon sequestration, and participation in a pilot to create certification for climate-friendly farming.”
Fritz said being involved in her community, both the local one and the broader community of small vineyards, is important to her.
Drawing from both her academic and winemaking backgrounds, she teaches a course in wine business entrepreneurship at Sonoma State University. She also helped to set up the Wine Entrepreneurship Network to bring people together to learn from each other, collaborate, and network.
Fritz said she recognized the power of setting up local networks while working in disaster relief and has since applied that concept in her new field to good effect.
“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” she explained. “The concept is that once you get a community together then your access to resources is multiplied – not necessarily financial resources but skills and knowledge and experience, which are equally important to share.”
Fritz’s generous willingness to share her knowledge was on display in prominent fashion at Pamplin this semester as she delivered the first in-person Wells Fargo Speaker Series lecture since the pandemic emerged. The Wells Fargo Distinguished Speaker Series is Pamplin’s most prestigious event of its type, reserved for speakers of extraordinary professional accomplishment. To a crowded room of mask wearing students and faculty members, with many more people watching via Zoom, Fritz shared insights from a career that has spanned decades and taken her to dozens of countries to apply her knowledge to help people.
We’re proud to welcome back such an accomplished graduate alumna, whose research and outreach have had a truly global impact,” said Devi Gnyawali, the R.B. Pamplin Professor of Management, who also heads Pamplin’s Department of Management. “Events like this are extremely inspiring and enlightening for our college community. We’re very grateful to Dr. Fritz for making a cross-country journey and sharing her remarkable story.”
Janice Litschert, the widow of Fritz’s mentor at Virginia Tech, was also in the audience for Fritz’s lecture.
“I just know that Bob thought very highly of Anisya and of her work as a graduate student,” Litschert said. “And I think the proof [of her ability] is in how successful she has been in her career. It was wonderful to see her again — and to hear her speak about her life after graduate school and the high regard she held for Bob.”
Fritz said Professor Litschert “represented the best of academia. He choose his career to give and he never stopped doing that. He was so caring and focused on really bringing out the best in his students.”
She added that, as an alumna and a teacher herself, she was happy to connect with the current generation of Pamplin students, on a campus that made such a mark on her.
“The Virginia Tech experience did change me — and it opened up the world to me,” she said.