Career Paths: Armando Zapata, Tequila Ambassador
Many of us go through life settling for the jobs we get. While we work and aspire to greater things, it's rare to find the role that perfectly suits our strengths and interests—and wholly improbable that it will find us. But when lightning strikes for those fortunate few, it's a feat worthy of admiration.
Take the case of Armando Zapata, who holds the distinguished role of "Tequila Ambassador" (or "Maestro de Tequila") for Sauza. If the title strikes you as awesome, Zapata wouldn't hesitate to agree: in a New York Times profile, he called it "one of the world's most enjoyable jobs."
Vault invited Mr. Zapata to our offices to learn about this unique profession straight from the source. He was kind enough to drop by and share insights on his career—as well as sharing his company's famed firewater. "I talk about tequila every day, and I drink tequila every day. That's a real job!"
"Next to being James Bond or one of the Beatles," he says, "this is one of the best jobs to have."
On the road again
"People always ask me, 'What's your job like?' And I say, 'Did you see that movie Up in the Air, with George Clooney? That's exactly what I do, but people actually like when I show up.'"
Such modest comparisons aside, Zapata describes his as a life in transit. "I travel all over the country. Usually, I travel once a week and sometimes my trips are one-day trips. Or sometimes they're four days or eight days. So you learn how to pack correctly, and you learn the routine about airports and hotels."
"No two are ever the same," Zapata describes of promotional events. "Every city, every audience, it's always different. That's what makes it fun." Given his affinity for Sauza, he says, "There's a lot to talk about, and people are always learning new things about tequila."
His audiences aren't the only ones learning, however. "I sample and collect recipes of [drinks] I like. I've got about 15 or 16 pages of just cocktail recipes."
"This all happened by accident"
For Zapata, joining Sauza was a perfect pairing. "I was already a 'tequila ambassador' before I got the job," he boasts. "I host a lot of dinner parties and barbecues, and I always make margaritas." But the connections go much further: "My grandfather is from Jalisco, where tequila is made, probably 20 minutes from where Sauza was born. So I think it's in my blood."
His path was not a direct one, however. "My background is actually broadcasting. I've done everything from radio D.J., to producer, to director, to some acting and some weird stuff in between. So this all happened by accident."
It began when a friend approached him to apply with her employer, Sauza. "She said, 'I think they're looking for someone like you,'" he recalls. Assuming the job was for ad production, he took an interview. "They had interviewed about a hundred people, and didn't find a match. I came in, and they liked my background." But Zapata had no idea they sought him for the ambassador gig. "I did glance at [the job listing], I just didn't think there was a connection. They said, 'We think there's a big connection.'"
The experience gave him a broader outlook on job searching. "I tell people, especially job seekers, you never know what qualifications you have. There's a story to be told, and you can expand on that."
Dressed to distill
The common impression of tequila is a rowdy, lawless cousin in the liquor family—a characterization perpetuated by fellow brand ambassadors known for, let's say, more informal appearance. Mr. Zapata, however, presents himself as mature and sophisticated.
Regarding that boorish stigma, he chuckles, "When people think of tequila, they think of their college days: a time when the funds were low, but the fun level was really high. So they bought what they could afford. A lot of times, they had a cheap tequila that they mixed with crazy stuff."
Befitting an ambassador, Zapata identifies with Sauza's branding of sophistication. "We will never have any advertising, whether it's print or TV, that shows people having a crazy time. That means you may be not using the product correctly." Proper use, as he demonstrates, is lightly sipping—never chugging.
A sober sense of duty
Of course, there are hazards to promoting alcoholic refreshments. Zapata, however, doesn't shy from this. Part of the job is addressing it head-on. "It's all about drinking smart, and at our company we have a program called Drink Smart."
He describes a typical scenario: "If I'm at an event and I see someone who maybe had a little too much, I whip out the company card and I will pay for their taxi ride home." As a rule, he says, "I tell people you need to pace yourself."
"That's the really responsible way to operate," Zapata asserts.
Every time a glass empties, a bottle opens
Don't let the superlative fool you; "the world's most enjoyable job" isn't for everyone—but for Zapata, it's a great fit. "The thing with this job, you have to like people. You have to like being the center of attention. I do enjoy that."
To get where he is, Zapata has benefitted from welcoming new opportunities. "I didn't have any television experience, but I went into TV and won two Emmy awards in TV, not really knowing anything." In turn, he advises others to "think of every experience as a learning tool." Says Zapata, "I think everything I've ever done has prepared me for this."
"I tell people who are stumbling or out of work, it's not a setback. You can learn from this process. Your journey can continue." Through his own journey, he muses, "I get to do so many of the things I really love doing."
"Sometimes I can't call it work, it's just so much fun."