Jeff McWilliam talks about becoming CEO and the company’s future

15 March, 2016 by

By Deborah Jackson, editor National Liquor News

Following its return to 100 per cent family ownership in late 2014, McWilliam's Wines has appointed chairman and fifth-generation family member Jeff McWilliam to the role of CEO, to replace outgoing CEO, Robert Blackwell. 

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As McWilliam prepares to take the helm in July, he speaks to TheShout about the future direction of the business.

“Me stepping up to the CEO role has been in the planning for quite some time. The conversations have been amongst the family and the board and they’ve been going on ever since we acquired back all the external interest in the business, so that’s been the catalyst for also having a look at where we wanted to position McWilliam’s.

"We divested out of Brand’s Laira last year and we’ve reduced our overall product offering, so we’ve sort of right sized the business a little bit. 

"I was involved in the business last year (as non-executive chairman) as we were going through business planning and the review process, so I also had to make a decision on how involved I would be moving forward.

"Particularly in that environment with Australia’s First Families of Wine, their senior family members are a lot more involved in their businesses and we haven’t been for some time, so obviously that’s a group that we want to be close with and work with, so that was part of the thinking too.”

Following the sale of Brand’s Laira, McWilliam revealed to TheShout that the next brand the business will be taking a serious look at is Barwang, from the Hilltops region. He revealed the company is looking at either divesting the brand or joint venturing with an off-shore partner.

“We’re working through something with Barwang at the moment. It was a vineyard and a brand that we acquired in the Hilltops region, but we’ve now launched a number of ranges under the McWilliam’s brand that cross over that region, so we have a number of products which talk to higher altitude, cooler climate and the pioneering of NSW but we’re doing it under the McWilliam’s brand.

“So the only thing I’m looking at is what do we do with the Barwang brand or that business. It’s not a very big business, but in essence we’ve now got McWilliam’s products that are taking over. So we’re looking at what that brand has done to date for us and that is about having some consistency around ‘proudly NSW’ and the McWilliam’s brand, rather than having two brands in the same region.

“We will potentially sell it as a going concern business, and/or joint venture with an off-shore partner. It’s a brand that resonates up in some of the Asian markets. Domestically, it really only is a Woolworths brand and we do a little bit in independents, but we’re now going to our customers and saying ’support these McWilliam’s products’, which is the Appellation range and we’ve been launching some exclusives and other ranges. We’ve got Cool Climate with Woolworths, we’re launching High Altitude amongst the independents and they’re the products that basically compete directly with the Barwang products. 

“We’re doing that domestically deliberately so we’re talking to the McWilliam’s brand and showcasing Hilltops, Tumbarumba, Canberra district, and Orange, so we don’t want that to compete directly with Barwang. 

"We’re looking at predominantly an export play with the Barwang brand and we’ll either help it because we’ve got the production capacity and the expertise and capabilities to do that, and/or an outright sale of the business as a going concern, but that’s the last piece in the rationalising of our brand portfolio and then it’s really just sitting back and seeing how the landscape changes."

To read more from Jeff McWilliam and other family wineries, read the April edition of National Liquor News.