Shaoching Bishop is taking on an unlikely challenge for a former Goldman Sachs investment banker: finding new markets for caviar.
Over the past six months, Bishop has crisscrossed the world for Sterling Caviar, meeting with distributors and fine food execs in no fewer than 15 countries. “My job is to shake hands and find out who’s buying. I go to open doors,” she says, describing her role at Sterling Caviar as broader than a CEO, also managing 30 employees at the company’s sturgeon farm near Sacramento.
Since taking the job last year, Bishop has already forged relationships with some of this country’s best chefs at big-name restaurants like Per Se in New York and The French Laundry in Yountville, Calif. Having a sensitive palate has helped immeasurably with chefs, she says. “I have a good nose, and when people tell me something (about what they like) or I taste caviar, I have a photographic memory. That’s really worked to my advantage for selling.”
So has her boundless energy, which has enabled her to respond to intense competition spawned by a 2006 ban on wild sturgeon harvesting due to overfishing and pollution. Supplies of fine Caspian caviar like Beluga dried up in the U.S., and Sterling, the country’s first farmed sturgeon business, suddenly had new global rivals trying to take advantage of the ban. “New farms were coming in like crazy,” says Bishop, noting the market has been flooded with caviar from Europe, Israel, and China.
Still, Sterling is firmly planted in the industry. Over 20 years, the company has grown from a hobby among its owners, who loved sturgeon (“They’re playful and smart,” Bishop says), to a sustainable aquaculture business near Sacramento that produces 12 tons of caviar a year ranging in cost from $70 to $117 an ounce.
But caviar is just one of the unusual directions that Bishop’s career has taken. After graduating from Haas, she worked 16-hour days in San Francisco as a financial analyst in Goldman Sachs’ venture arm, helping firms build equity, go public, or sell.
With the arrival of her second child, she decided to scale back and landed a job helping Skyy Vodka founder Maurice Kanbar with his various inventions at MK Enterprises. “I worked with the engineer to turn a concept into a prototype,” Bishop says. The wide-ranging products included everything from the Fuzz-It sweater comb to sticky notes called Zip Notes.
After nine years, Bishop grew restless as VP of project management and took on a new challenge: Kanbar’s caviar business, Tsar Nicoulai Caviar. She stayed for a year and a half, turning the business around as general manager. “For the first time in 10 years we made money,” she says. “That’s when I discovered I could sell.”
Bishop, who grew up near Shanghai, says Haas Lecturer Steve Etter, BS 83, MBA 89, has inspired her throughout her career because he urged students to question everything. “Even though my English was not good and I had no idea about finance, his class just registered,” she says. “It was very open. It was freedom every single day.”
While passionate about her job, she already has a semi-retirement plan: to open a preschool, teaching kids to be just as curious as she is about everything from business to cooking to poetry.
“I want to raise kids to have Steven Etter’s method,” she says. “I want to cultivate minds.”