Travis Hill to step down as Va. ABC's CEO; Hill joined agency in 2014, led 2018 transition to authority
Virginia Business - PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 28, 2023BY KATE ANDREWS
Travis Hill, CEO of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, announced Thursday he plans to step down from his post at the ABC, where he's worked since 2014.
Hired nine years ago as the Virginia ABC's chief operating officer, Hill became CEO in 2018 after managing the former state department's transition to a semi-independent authority with more autonomy, Over the past nine years, the ABC has brought in more than $4 billion in profits and tax revenue to the state, according to Thursday's announcement, and it moved its headquarters from Richmond to Mechanicsville in Hanover County.
Starting in 2018, the Virginia ABC surpassed $1 billion in liquor sales each year and broke sales records each year of Hill's tenure as CEO. In fiscal year 2023, the authority exceeded its gross revenue from the previous year by $54 million, with $1.4 billion in sales.
However, Hill also presided over the authority during a period of recent controversy. In June, reports emerged that employees embezzled money from seven ABC stores last year, taking advantage of a cash register system vulnerability. A September 2022 audit uncovered the thefts, but ABC leaders said they didn't learn about it until February 2023. Four higher-up employees were later placed on leave, but it's unclear if that was connected to the thefts. Still, ABC's board chair, former state Del. Tim Hugo, expressed perplexity over how agency leaders could be unaware of the problem for six months.
During a town hall meeting Thursday, Hill said, "Joining Virginia ABC in its prior form as a department and then leading its transformation to an authority was an honor as I learned about our unique place in Virginia's government as a source of revenue and regulation. We held commitments to generating profits through the responsible sale of spirits while ensuring public safety by enforcing regulatory standards that afforded a fair marketplace.
"Our unique organization had many partners, thousands of employees and responsibility for an industry that has not one, but two, constitutional amendments dedicated to its operations. Together, we transformed into a modern governmental authority, building a distribution center that supports creative retail offerings through the promotion of products that come from every corner of the world and this commonwealth."
Hill did not disclose what his plans are going forward, saying only, "I look forward to new challenges ahead where I can apply the lessons I've learned while working with you."
Under Hill, Virginia ABC managed changes in the sale of alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic, when state policies allowed the sale of mixed drinks off-site by restaurants, a move that kept some Virginia eateries afloat during the shutdown, when they were limited to carryout and delivery options. Also, Gov. Glenn Youngkin's administration was displeased with a decline in revenue the authority was bringing to the state, according to a Virginia Mercury report in July. In an ABC board meeting, the state's chief transformation officer reportedly noted that the ABC's operating costs grew since 2017 as did sales, but not to the same degree, and the authority's contributions to the state declined from 2021 to 2023.
According to an ABC spokesperson, Hill's last day will be Nov. 10, and Chief Law Enforcement Officer Thomas Kirby will serve as interim CEO. Kirby, according to his bio, joined the ABC as a special agent in the bureau's Hampton and Richmond regional offices in 2001, and previously served as a police officer in Newport News and Hampton.
Hill previously served as state deputy secretary of agriculture and forestry before joining the Virginia ABC. He is currently president of the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators and is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, from which he received his bachelor's and law degrees.