Brian McGuigan: A Story About Wine, Grit and Winning
Sales Fixes Everything
“Sales fixes everything”. We are in Brian McGuigan’s winter garden at Hermitage Road, Pokolbin. The ferns above us are real (I felt them to make sure). One of the world’s leading winemakers, multi-millionaire business men, fathers and forces of nature sits across from me.
It wasn’t always easy. Being subject to a hostile raid in 1990: “This French company took me out to lunch at 11:45am on a Friday in Double Bay and told me: You are such a huge pain in our b*ts, so we are prepared to let you run our whole Australian operation. All you need to do, is to withdraw your offer to buy the shares we want”.
An illness in the family made the proposition easier to accept. The arrangement soured. Ten years later, Mr McGuigan rose like a phoenix and bought back all the assets he’d had to give up. This is a story about grit, strategy and execution.
Share price correlates with branding
Having sold over 200 million cases of wine throughout his career, a third-generation winemaker and delivering an all-time high share price during his leadership of McGuigan Wines, Brian McGuigan exudes a warm confidence. The type you can only get from being a winner. Being a worker. Being self-made.
When asked why the share price plummeted on his retirement from the Board in 2007, Mr McGuigan smiles mischievously. He tells a tale of an interim CEO who wasn’t up for the job, of the correlation between personal branding and share price – but what he doesn’t talk about are external factors. Not one mention of unfavourable market conditions or political instability. His younger brother Neil McGuigan is CEO today. Neil has started to turn things around for what has been an ailing, yet still dominating, wine enterprise.
Sell your wares
“The priority in business is to sell your wares. That’s it. You have got to make the sale. You see, sales fixes everything”. Mr McGuigan smiles, twinkles even.
When asked how he goes about it, his response is simple: “Spend time with your customers. Figure out what you think they are missing and fulfil that need”.
Notice here how Mr McGuigan isn’t saying: ‘Give the customer what they are asking for’. No. He is saying,
Figure out what you think the customer needs and then create the product that satisfies this need.
This distinction was adopted by leaders such as Steve Jobs. When Apple tested one of their first TV advertisements, their focus groups rejected the ads completely. Jobs in turn overruled their feedback and ran the ads anyway. Steve became known as a marketing genius and Apple turned into a billion-dollar company.
Do your own research
Mr McGuigan has always done his own market research. In his view, there is no other way. “I’ve never understood those who are too confident to go out and talk to their own customers”.
He elaborates. “As a winemaker, we have the product and production knowledge. The customer, if you get them after the whites have been served and once they are on to the reds, will tell you what they really think. Especially if you pull up a chair and speak honestly with them. By commissioning a third-party research company to do your research, you miss out on all the technical possibilities, all the creative solutions”.
Asked for an example where his customers helped Mr McGuigan birth a winning wine, he goes to the tale of the TR2. “Everyone said Rieslings’ were too sweet. So, we made a Riesling that was the most balanced Riesling you could get on the market”. He speaks in exclamation marks on product differentiation: “It’s critical to stand apart from the rest!”
Strategy on the battle field
In the way a victorious General hustles his troops to the next critical battle ground, McGuigan explains his approach to marketing strategy: “Once we drove the market from one side to another, we would go for the middle”.
McGuigan talks about life as a public company, going after the largest markets, carving them up and attacking them one by one. “As a public company you don’t have 10 years to get things right, you’ve got 12 months until the results are released to shareholders. So, you better get it right”.
He follows today’s ‘agile methodology’: “You always make sure you have a well-thought-out product portfolio. If a product isn’t selling you get rid of it, and quickly. People will grow to trust your brand and so you do not want to lose their trust”.
Into the Wine Library
We make our way into his wine cellar. (Let’s pause here for a minute. Where was I? Oh yes, we make our way into Mr McGuigan’s wine cellar). He shows us wines from Penfolds worth thousands of dollars. He generously picks out a dozen red wines for the crew. Some from his daughter and winemaker Lisa McGuigan’s recent release: An absolutely delicious and bold Shiraz called Maximus (she gets the marketing knack from her father).
“You only live once!” Brian beams as he pours red into huge wine glasses. “Of course, Fay and I hardly drink wine at home anymore. The tricky thing for a winemaker is: You become better the more you taste. But I’m retired now”. He looks a little mischievous, as he walks us out in time for lunch with his Hunter Valley business associates.
Brian Speak About Customers
Watch the video below to hear Brian’s view on what it means to market successfully.
Filmed by Tony Whittaker, Carnivore Films.
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