VIM: You have a huge passion for motorcycles and your first job after graduating from Oxford was as a bike messenger; was this passion a result of the job, or vice versa?
No, I began riding bikes at 16. Being a bike messenger paid me (a bit of) money and got me a free bike to ride which was useful as I couldn’t afford one of my own. Not a long term career though. I admire messengers enormously, they are the elite and, necessarily, live dangerously.
VIM: After this you worked in a small wine shop in town, how much did you know about wine prior to taking the job?
Remarkably little. I could tell good from bad. Still can.
VIM: When you joined Corney & Barrow you came on board as a salesperson and worked your way up to the top of the company? Tell us how you got the job to begin with, and what that journey has been like?
C&B didn’t want me, it took 9 months and 3 interviews to get in. It was a tough time. It taught me never to give up. I could sell however and that swung it eventually.
The journey has been extraordinary. The great thing about a Private Company is that there is a very direct link between effort and result which benefits the individual and yet also makes the team in the best sense ambitious. It also has to be meritocratic which is good. C&B is full of people who started at the bottom and rose to the top. Luckily I was in the right place at the right time and with some very clear (not always correct) ideas.
VIM: What advice would you give to any of your own sales staff aspiring to make a similar leap?
Believe in what you do and hold your values – and the company’s – very close.
VIM: You have exclusive rights on a number of brands namely, Petrus and DRC, what did it take to secure those and how long was that process?
It took belief that you could serve the interests of your customers, the grower and the company by pursuing at that time – and to a certain extent today – the revolutionary concept of exclusive distribution. The trade thought we were cuckoo, the customers loved it. That taught me a lot.
VIM: You must get to deal with Aubert de Villaine quite regularly, what’s he like to “hang out” with? And what’s he like to do business with?
Yes. I know of no man who reconciles better those opposite qualities of self-belief and humility. He is also marvellous company. The wine world is in awe of him but he doesn’t really see or understand that. I love him for that. I’m lucky to know him.
In business he listens – a rare quality. Tough though and very acute.
VIM: We are reading more and more stories in the wine press about fake wines being discovered either in auctions or bonded warehouses. You have an authentication service for your clients that is quite different from what others offer, tell our readers how?
The fake wine problem is huge. To combat it and with the complete support of the Moueix family (owners of Petrus etc) we began in 1996 an authentication service for Petrus. We have written and photographic records of all Petrus vintages back to 1964 taken from the Chateau’s own cellars. Pre 1964 no authentication is possible.