J. Neal Insley has worn many hats over the course of his career. His experience spans across numerous areas, including law, business and beverage control. No stranger to the National Beverage Control Association (NABCA), having previously served as the organization’s chairman and currently as a member of its executive leadership team, it came as no surprise when Insley was selected as NABCA’s next president and CEO.
He assumed the President/CEO role in October 2021, succeeding Jim Sgueo, who retired after 28 years in the position.
A Diverse Career History
Insley’s career began in law enforcement. He spent three years serving as a police officer with the Virginia Marine Police before moving on to a special agent position with the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC).
Soon after, Insley began attending law school part-time. Upon graduation, he left the Virginia ABC to become a state prosecutor and eventually founded a law firm specializing in corporate regulation and ABC law.
Insley grew his business and later moved the practice to a large national law firm. Prior to his departure from the firm, Insley led the team’s hospitality law group.
In 2010, Insley returned to the Virginia ABC to serve as its agency head and chairman of the board.
Among his many accomplishments in that role, Insley overhauled the agency’s warehouse operations, developed quantifiable listing and delisting procedures, developed a Product Management Committee to aid in the organization’s ability to quickly identify and respond to marketplace changes, and created the agency’s first marketing division. He began the process of resetting and redesigning ABC stores, and restructured enforcement operations to allow agents to spend more time conducting field investigations.
Two years after becoming the Virginia ABC chairman, Insley was the first person in history to serve as NABCA chairman for nearly two consecutive terms due to the preceding chairman resigning after one month of service. During his initial tenure at NABCA, Insley’s work concentrated on progressive control, system modernization and NABCA’s mission and strategic goals.
In 2013, he was recognized by the Center for Alcohol Policy as co-winner of the organization’s inaugural Leadership in Alcohol Regulation Award, which is designed to recognize best practices by alcohol regulators who oversee the alcohol industry and promote public safety.
Not long after completing his role as NABCA chair, Insley left the Virginia ABC and returned to private practice for a year. Although he enjoyed the work, Insley knew he wanted more.
“Largely because of the experience I’d had with NABCA, it was hard for me to climb back into a small pond after having been so involved in national and international projects and policy discussions,” he says. “I wanted to go back to that.”
Insley remained in close contact with Sgueo, and when NABCA’s long-time outside legal counsel planned to retire, Sgueo asked if Insley might be interested in taking on some of the work.
However, there was a growing need for additional legal expertise within the organization, and Sgueo soon proposed the idea of a full-time internal position. In 2015, Insley returned to NABCA in the newly created role of Senior Vice President and General Counsel. His previous legal experience included many areas in addition to beverage law, giving Insley a well-rounded background that helped him provide expertise and strategic guidance across all areas of the organization.
For the past six years, he has worked closely with NABCA’s executive leadership team and board of directors on a variety of legal, legislative and business issues. These include corporate governance, compliance, intellectual property preservation, employment law issues, contract preparation and review, compliance and litigation.
Additionally, Insley serves as an advisor to NABCA’s board of directors and engages in numerous outreach efforts and partnerships with control states across the country. He regularly collaborates with different states on issues such as bailment, warehousing, and other business functions.
With so many changes affecting the industry over the past decade, Insley has also worked on a great deal of litigation, serving as a resource to states and filing briefs on various matters, all the while learning more about how different states deal with trade practice issues and regulations. He formed relationships with many other organizations related to the policy and public safety aspect of the industry, helping launch innovative new programs and training.
Insley’s work has resulted in establishing strong contacts across the industry. He is a regular speaker at national and international conferences and seminars, and has built a reputation of being one of the most knowledgeable people in the beverage control industry.
In 2020, Insley was elected to the Board of Directors of the Virginia Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, which provides confidential, non-disciplinary assistance to lawyers, judges, law students and legal professionals experiencing professional impairment due to substance abuse or mental health problems.
Insley’s wide breadth of experience make him especially qualified for his new leadership role with NABCA.
“Unlike any position within an organization, the general counsel really touches every aspect of the work at some point,” Insley says. “My current role with NABCA, as well as my previous position as chairman, really helped me establish a firm foundation from which to begin this new leadership role.”
Insley’s predecessor agrees that he’s leaving NABCA in very capable care.
“Neal has experience that I never had coming into this position,” Sgueo says. “He’s been an enforcement officer for a state, worked as an attorney for a number of years, served as the director of a state agency and was chairman of the board for NABCA. Then he also served six years as our NABCA general counsel.”
“His resume is perfect for this job,” Sgueo adds. “During his whole 30-year career, 25-plus years have been connected somehow to control systems. That’s why he was selected. With that kind of experience and his law background, I know he’ll be a really great CEO.”
Looking to The Future
As he begins his new role as president and CEO, Insley looks forward to spending time with the NABCA board as well as with the organization’s employees to discuss opportunities, challenges and priorities.
He also plans to conduct stakeholder and customer outreach to hear from people outside NABCA member jurisdictions in order to get the broadest possible perspective on current issues. These conversations will help him determine his focus areas in the coming year. However, several issues are already top of mind.
Like all organizations, NABCA is currently working its way through the Covid-19 pandemic. Insley is committed to working with internal and external partners to ensure that organizations, agencies and the industry in general stays safe and successfully navigates these uncertain times.
“Covid is our biggest short-term challenge in addition to being an internal challenge for our employees,” Insley says. “The pandemic has already changed the landscape of the industry. It’s also made people realize that we are part of the global market of this industry. There are definitely some rough waters still ahead and helping our staff as well as our industry partners make it through and find solutions to the many challenges caused by this pandemic is and will remain a top priority.”
In addition to managing Covid-19 issues, Insley thinks that innovation is at the forefront of the industry.
Back when he originally joined the Virginia ABC, modernization was a big focus. However, in most cases, the industry has moved beyond the initial modernization process and is now concentrating on innovation, zeroing in on what new and creative ways to enhance business operations and better serve the needs of various stakeholders.
“NABCA plays an important role in this process,” Insley says. “We are a non-advocacy organization and therefore don’t lobby, but we do provide our members with the most current and accurate information available. Under the 21st Amendment, individual states are allowed to decide how they distribute liquor, and our job is to be an ongoing resource to them, giving them the data and information they need to make informed decisions and be successful.”
Collaboration is another key priority for Insley. It is also a core value central to NABCA’s mission of supporting its member jurisdictions. Insley pledges to continue expanding upon existing collaborations among various stakeholders, and to ensure that commerce and public safety remain equal priorities for all parties involved, which serves to benefit everyone.
“The pendulum in this industry is always swinging,” Insley says. “We always need to be mindful of that and recognize there’s always a push-pull dynamic when dealing with this commodity. That’s why collaboration is so essential. We need to continue providing information to our members so they can make good decisions, see what other states have done, and learn from that.”
Insley plans to formally announce additional strategic goals and objectives for NABCA in 2022.
Melissa Sherwin is a freelance writer and marketing communications strategist from Chicago, IL. Her work has appeared in Chicago’s Daily Herald newspaper, Time Out Chicago, Suburban Life newspapers, and various magazines. She is also the author of several children’s books. Follow her @MelissaNSherwin.