Former McWilliams Wines CEO David Pitt was interviewed by KPMG partner and McWilliams Wines administrator Gayle Dickerson in a session entitled “Toasting a turnaround“.
David recounted his leadership of an iconic Australian wine producer through a restructure and 16 month voluntary administration, bushfires, a global pandemic, Chinese tariffs and the ultimate sale of the business to two family businesses. He discussed the challenges that he faced as CEO, the opportunities that arose that he used to his advantage, the lessons that he learnt and what he will take to future roles in leading the turnaround which saw McWilliam’s exit an onerous lease, sell assets to fund losses, enter into a recapitalisation plan and eventually be saved.
The McWilliam’s family approached David to assist the turnaround. In part, the business had suffered as a result of evolving consumers and markets which had impacted brand relevance. The decision to appoint administrators was made when the bushfires had impacted the vintage stock and the global pandemic was about to hit. It was made with a view to run the business as operationally effectively as possible and keep trading to ensure it remained cashflow positive to enable the administrators to do what they needed to do.
David became a stronger leader because of the challenges he faced during the turnaround of McWilliam’s: the administration taught him how to respond more effectively, adapt and lead with confidence. He learnt to make emotionless decisions and he made more aggressive decisions that he may otherwise not have. He realised he needed to park emotions and make decisions quicker as there was value on the other side. David also learnt the importance of more frequently examining and understanding where and how every dollar is spent.
Whilst the ultimate sale of the business to two family organisations was not necessarily the desired outcome initially, McWilliam’s wines remain on the shelves. McWilliams Wines has shown implementing a restructure can not only save a 143 year legacy but benefit the business and see it thrive again.