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Distell shakes up board

There was quite a stir in the local liquor sector last month when Stellenbosch-based Distell gave its board of directors a vigorous shaking.

Last month Distell announced that executive directors Pieter Carolin, Carina Gous, Caroline Snyman, Johan Venter and Debra Ullrich had resigned from the board of Distell Limited with effect from April 15.

They were replaced by Distell’s marketing executive Dave Carruthers, international director Steve Nathan, Kate Rycroft and JP van der Walt. There was initial disbelief that a handful of highly regarded liquor industry executives would resign ‘en masse’ – not to mention mischievous speculation that the five had been head-hunted by another liquor group. But Distell was quick to point out that the five executives were not leaving Distell or relinquishing their respective managerial responsibilities.

Distell CEO Richard Rushton said the changes were driven mainly by a change in the company’s organisation-design following the revision of its corporate strategy. He stressed the changes were implemented gradually and had not disrupted business continuity.

Rushton added that the board changes were also driven by earlier changes to the board – most notably the retirement in June 2013 of Malcolm Searle, the former global marketing director, and the retirement of Stoffel Cronjé, Distell’s former company secretary, in April 2014.

Cronje also held a few portfolios – including head of human resources and overall head of strategy. JP van der Walt was subsequently appointed human resources director and Lizelle Malan company secretary.

Strategy was incorporated into a new division called corporate development, and Kate Rycroft was appointed director of the new division. Don Gallow, former international director, retired in December 2015, and was succeeded by Steven Nathan.

Rushton explained that the change in Distell’s organisation-design followed a revision of its corporate strategy He pointed out that in early 2014 Distell significantly revised its corporate strategy.

“Although this was an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary change, it did require an organisational redesign,” says Rushton.

Rushton noted that the old ‘segment’ (wines, spirits and Ready-to-Drinks) approach was discontinued.

He said an end-to-end supply chain was established and both the primary production and the secondary production divisions were incorporated into the new supply chain division.The Africa business region was established as an independent region (previously it was incorporated in the international division.) Rushton reiterated that all the executives who resigned as executive directors were still in Distell’s employ – albeit re-assigned into other roles after consultation with them.

Gous, formerly business director of Wines, becomes luxury brands director, and Ullrich, formerly acting director of global marketing, becomes director of accessible power brands.

Snyman, formerly business director of the spirits segment, is now marketing director for southern Africa. Carolin continues in his role as director of distribution for southern Africa, while Venter recently moved into a new role as the head of the centre of excellence in the supply chain leadership team.

KVW for sale?

At the time of going to press reports had surfaced that Paarl-based liquor group KWV Holdings was up for sale.

Reports in Business Day suggest former food sector magnate Vivian Imerman has expressed an interest in KVW, which is currently controlled by Cape-based empowerment giant Hosken Consolidated Investments (HCI.)

Imerman has experience in the liquor industry, and had successfully turned around and then sold at a profit the well-known scotch-maker Whyte and MacKay.

HCI has battled to produce sustainable profits at KWV since taking effective control of the business in 2001. Many liquor industry pundits believed HCI would bulk up KWV’s core wine and brandy offering with acquisitions or partnerships.

In fact, HCI has not initiated any corporate action – save for increasing its stake in KWV to over 50%. Much of the operational focus has been on building up the core brandy and wine brands – although there was an unconvincing attempt to build a niche in the Ready-to-Drink (RTD) segment.

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