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Business swap, part two: Ralph Vartan gets a taste of being "Merlot Mike," credit union VP

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To close out a business swap experiment with the Business Journal on Thursday, Ralph Vartan, left, and Mike Wilson meet up at The Vineyard and Brewery at Hershey. Wilson is a partner in the business.
To close out a business swap experiment with the Business Journal on Thursday, Ralph Vartan, left, and Mike Wilson meet up at The Vineyard and Brewery at Hershey. Wilson is a partner in the business. - (Photo / )

Three days after watching Mike Wilson tour construction sites with tenants, run staff meetings on future developments and call press conferences to extend daily restaurant operations in Midtown Harrisburg, developer Ralph Vartan got to experience what it's like living in his friend's shoes — literally.

The CEO of Vartan Group Inc. on Thursday swapped his blue Honda Civic for a bright purple MerlotMobile and stepped into the life of "Merlot Mike" Wilson.

For the record, he opted for Wilson's cork shoes to go with the purple suit and crown as "King of the Grapes." Wilson is a partner at The Vineyard and Brewery at Hershey.

Vartan led business meetings with vineyard staff, filmed a promotional video and helped guide a private tour of operations, among other activities as "Merlot Mike."

But donning the suit and giving tours of winery and brewery operations is only part of Wilson's daily duties. His primary job is as vice president of relationship management at Members 1st Federal Credit Union.

Throughout his day pretending to be Wilson, Vartan also wore a more traditional business suit and credit union pin as he attended community functions supported by Members 1st and met with senior leadership to discuss prospective client deals and upcoming fundraisers supported by the financial institution. Children's Miracle Network is one example of community support.

Part of Vartan's time was spent with George Nahodil, acting president and CEO at Members 1st.

While splitting up his time between the two roles, Vartan leveraged his own community contacts to try and upgrade Wilson's garage with a new Maserati on the Carlisle Pike. He also had a little fun with the MerlotMobile in a McDonald's drive-thru after Wilson pulled a similar stunt Monday at a Wendy's restaurant.

Here are some of the day's highlights from social media:

Look for more about the business swap experiment in next week's Business Journal, including takeaways from the two men involved. And don't miss other social media posts from the guys @hrvartan and @Merlot_Mike.

Mike Wilson, left, and Ralph Vartan show off their cufflinks during a business swap Thursday. Vartan, a real estate developer, stepped into Wilson's professional life as a vice president and Members 1st Federal Credit Union and a partner at The Vineyard and Brewery at Hershey.
Mike Wilson, left, and Ralph Vartan show off their cufflinks during a business swap Thursday. Vartan, a real estate developer, stepped into Wilson's professional life as a vice president and Members 1st Federal Credit Union and a partner at The Vineyard and Brewery at Hershey. - (Photo / )
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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jscott@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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