There is too little emphasis on your marketing experience or your commercial acumen and too much on what you know about wine. Nina Young
Recruiting and retaining talented people has never been more important – or more tough – for the wine trade. Erin Smith reports – Harpers Wine and Spirit Trade News
According to new research from North Highland, a global management consultancy firm, 55% of executives believe their businesses lack “the talent needed to meet growth targets”. Which may in turn explain why fully 90% of those polled – all leaders at US or UK companies with annual turnovers of £750m or more – also felt that their businesses were not performing at their full potential. Having the right people in place can be one of the business’ biggest assets. In the wine trade, however, recruiting skilled and knowledgeable people can be hard work.
Recruiting talented people is always a challenge. I’m not sure we’re seeing as many young people wanting to get into the wine business as there were two decades ago, simply because the opportunities for them are more varied today,
says David Gleave MW, managing director of Liberty Wines.
Nina Young, talent and marketing director at Fluid Fusion, a drinks-trade specific recruitment consultancy, agrees. But she goes further, too, suggesting that some of the challenges the wine industry faces when it comes to recruiting may be self-imposed.
There are a number of challenges in the marketplace in attracting talent, but generally across the wine industry there is still a lot of catching up to do, Young says.
There is still too much old-school thinking and attitudes. There is still too little emphasis on your marketing experience or your commercial acumen, and too much on what you know about wine.
While it can be hard to identify the right candidates, commercial skills are essential to the growth and longevity of every business. Cilla Snowball CBE, group chairman and group chief executive at AMV BBDO, warns that finding people who can drive innovation within an organisation is incredibly hard. She says: “People who can see the next big thing and see around the corner, people who can predict what the next big thing is going to be and then what is behind that – it might sound easy to identify them, but they are very, very hard to find.”
But attracting top talent is not just hard, it is an investment and one many companies within the wine trade are not always prepared to make. “One of the biggest challenges I see is around salary,” Young says. “Generally, the alcohol industry pays less than the wider FMCG sector. Overall, the drinks sector is starting to catch up, but the wine category within drinks operates on the assumption that if you love wine so much, you’ll be willing to take a lower salary. “I have some very talented people with exceptional FMCG experience who want to move across into wine, but they can’t afford to take the drop in pay. The industry then just misses out on some really talented people. It is a huge problem,” she says.
Withering on the vine
The wine trade has traditionally been slow to adapt expectations when it comes the importance of wine knowledge over other equitable skills such as commercial acumen or negotiation skills. “Wine is a fantastic product but there seems to be so much focus on the product itself,” Young says. “There is so much emphasis on technical qualifications and that is where wine seems to fall down. What we see frequently is that many companies in the sector expect candidates to have a wine qualification like WSET level one otherwise they will not even be considered for a position. There seems to be this expectation that a candidate has to have the wine knowledge and that everything else will follow.”
Things are changing though, Young says, with more businesses looking for candidates who don’t just have specific knowledge or skills, but who also have the emotional intelligence to adapt to today’s ever-changing commercial environments and who are a good fit culturally for the company. “We are seeing much more demand for commercial awareness, which is good because wine businesses are generally trying to catch up with FMCG,” Young says. “We have had some great candidates with exceptional experience, but if they can’t demonstrate that they have the emotional intelligence and cultural awareness of the company they just won’t go any further. The culture fit is another element that can be challenging.” Those businesses that are a bit more open-minded about wine knowledge have found candidates who have made some great contributions to the brands and their bottom lines. Pernod Ricard and a number of others – have recruited outside the traditional wine trade and looked to bring in more people with strong FMCG experience. Young says: “Hiring can’t just be about having the minimum wine qualifications. It is that gap that we are still trying to educate our clients about. We have managed to convince some and had some real wins.”
According to Gleave, offering talented people the opportunity to grow into new roles is another ongoing challenge in the wine trade. He says: “The biggest challenge will always be matching people’s development with the needs of the business, especially in a low-margin business such as wine distribution.” Having a clear path for career advancement and opportunities for professional development are really important. Gleave says: “Our business wouldn’t be able to survive without our staff. These things are very important to our employees and can come in various forms: training and professional development, new areas of responsibility or promotion, for example. It is a key part of our retention policy: if people are fulfilled and are progressing they will stay for longer.” Young agrees. Employees often cite the lack of a clear plan for career progression as a reason to leave a job, she says. “It is very common for people to leave the industry if they don’t have an avenue to develop. We are seeing a lot of inroads within wine through retail. You often see companies that, for example, have people who start in shops and then transition into account management and wholesaling and move up the ranks that way. Majestic does great stuff with its training scheme. It is a good example of an organisation that is a bit more like other FMCG companies, providing good training and offering opportunities for professional development. But a lot of companies are behind in the sector.”
The importance of having an organisation that incubates talent is critical to all businesses within the trade. “Oddbins was – and is once again – an outstanding incubation ground,” Gleave says. “Majestic continues to do a superb job training people in both wine and sales. Many of them have since moved onto other roles in the industry. We owe a great debt to both companies. But in addition to their work, all companies have had to pitch in to train and cultivate the best talent they’ve been able to attract.” Gleave believes so much in the importance of developing the employment opportunities at Liberty Wines that the company now has a well-established apprentice programme. “The Liberty Wines’ Apprentice programme was initially established as a way to develop our own talent. After the two-year programme, the apprentice should have a very clear idea of how each part of our business works, and we should have a clear idea of where that person can best contribute to our business. It is a ‘win win’ situation for all of us, providing a very strong platform for the apprentice’s future development within the company,” he explains. While attracting and retaining talent can be hard work for organisations, it is one of the best and most critical investments a company can make. As Gleave points out: “Our businesses are only as good as the people working in them.”
This article was kindly permitted to be re-published from Harpers Wine and Spirits