Making Merry, Giving Back With The PlumpJack Group

SAN FRANCISCO—What’s in a name? A lot, as it turns out. For Hilary Newsom, president of The PlumpJack Group, a hospitality management firm based here, the company’s name denotes a personal connection, a fondness for Shakespeare and the merriment captured by one special character.

Founded in 1992 by California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom along with composer and philanthropist Gordon Getty, the PlumpJack Group has a number of business concerns, including hotels and resorts; wineries and wine stores; restaurants and bars; boutiques and event spaces.

“My father’s best friend Gordon Getty wrote the opera ‘PlumpJack’ and when my brother was figuring out what to name the company, he was taken back to his high school days reading Shakespeare,” said Hilary Newsom, who has been with the company for 20 years. “It’s a wonderful character that appeared in Henry IV and was nicknamed by Queen Elizabeth. We love that mantra of living life out loud, taking hold and being merry.”

It is that warmth of spirit and love of entertaining people that brings the hospitality company to where it is today and where it is headed next. Making an impact on the nonprofit world is a major point of focus for Hilary Newsom and The PlumpJack Group and something she sees as a key part of her core values.

“In hospitality, it’s about the good things in life. I don’t have to draw a line between personal and professional—it’s all part of one whole. As president, I spend 25% of my time on philanthropy,” she said. “I want to be sincere about my commitment to the community. I was raised by an environmentalist and my brother is a public servant. If we can’t give back to the community, we’re not good citizens.”

She’s very close to achieving 501(c)3 status for the PlumpJack Foundation and is currently involved in major fundraising projects and doing good in the community.

“To have a foundation that can focus on the important work we’re dong in cancer research and education, as well as children and poverty makes me exceedingly proud,” she said. “My mom died of breast cancer and it’s still painful to think about it. She was the controller and was here daily. I’ll never forget when she said, ‘please don’t forget me’ and I thought oh my God that couldn’t have happened anyway.”

Her last conversation with her mother before she passed away propelled her forward and, through The PlumpJack/LINK Golf Classic, was able to raise $3.75 million total for the Cancer Prevention Institute of California (CPIC).

“It was in honor of her and my husband’s mom, who is a survivor. My kids joined me on stage to speak to people and it’s what really makes a difference. I do this because I care,” she said. “It’s about embracing our core values, defining culture that is relevant to today and creating this foundation to help others.”

Newsom’s business agenda is full, too. Under her leadership, The PlumpJack Group has tripled its revenue and expanded its portfolio. More strategic growth is on the horizon for The PlumpJack Group, starting with an expansion of the winery business and looking at potential opportunities outside of California.

“We want to continue to do things with great partners, first and foremost, and people we admire that are like us and share our core values. We did a joint venture with Meriwether Companies for our little B&B in Carmel, a nightclub and two bars in San Francisco. They completely embrace our core values and they’ve been successful in their own right. We’ll continue to work with them in the future and do projects independently.”

—Corris Little