An edited extract from a speech about Leadership in the Wine Industry made by Michael Ratcliffe at the Stellenbosch launch of the book ‘Grape - from Slavery to BEE’ by Dr. Wilmot James, Prof Jakes Gerwal and Jeanne Viall.
Would it be inappropriate to ask just who is in charge of the South African wine industry? Who is providing overall leadership for the industries growth and development and who is laying the groundwork for a sustainable future?
The South African wine industry is having a tough time. The trading environment is brutal and global economic conditions show little evidence of improving. The industry is beset with challenges and is in need of direction. Where is the decisive strategic thinking, the ambitious and bold master plan and the careful thought that characterises the most successful global businesses? Where is the cut and thrust?
The leadership vacuum is not a new phenomenon. In the past decade, this leadership challenge lead to complex efforts to create a leadership body called the South African Wine Industry Council (SAWIC), but this well-intentioned project failed due to unnecessary politicisation of the process and through the unfortunate triumph of vested interest over best practice. Since the demise of SAWIC, it has been very quiet. Our industry has many organisations (VINPRO, WKSA, WOSA, SALBA) which provide valuable, but localised leadership. What is urgently needed is a legitimate overarching body to corral the industry in one unified direction?
Of late, there have been questions asked of Wines of South Africa (WOSA) concerning their efficacy at providing leadership to our industry. This is misguided as WOSA is a marketing body with a simple mandate to create a generic marketing capability in the export markets. WOSA does this very well on a limited budget and they are a valuable industry asset. WOSA does not have the mandate to provide broader strategic industry leadership. WOSA’s board is also conflicted as it is (in effect) an organ of the South African Liquor Brand Owners (SALBA) and Wine Cellars South Africa (WKSA) whose majority vote enables them to determine the best use of industry monies for generic export marketing.
One of the key functions of a National leadership organ would be to create and maintain relations with government. Government largely ignores the wine industry apart from an occasional hand-out from the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI). The wine industry is a major employer, a disproportionately large contributor to the fiscus and an unutilised secret weapon for South African Tourism. Why is it so difficult for the wine industry to be taken seriously by government? Is it because government is so disorganised and disinterested, or is the wine industry to blame for lacking focus?
What should be done to provide leadership? This speaker does not pretend to know the solution, but is humble enough to venture at least a few points that hopefully will fuel the right kind of debate.
I believe that we need to find a way to resurrect a central representative body with WOSA, DTI, VINPRO, WKSA, SALBA & Government (local and national) all invited to the table. It should be composed of the best people for the job and not strive to be all encompassing in its representation. This board should have a lean staff of well paid senior strategic thinkers, lobbyists and perhaps a few admin personnel. It should have the aim of empowering the intellectual capital that resides in our industry to create a forum for strategic planning. The board should be mandated to establish and foster a high level relationship with local and National government including the departments of Agriculture, Finance, Labour, Public Enterprise and Tourism. It should participate actively and openly in lobbying at the highest level and should have a dedicated budget for this purpose. In order to keep this body lean and accountable, it should be funded by government and should not provide funding to any other bodies.
For this body to have a chance at success, it needs to have someone in Government to talk too. Incompetence, a stubborn lack of interest and unacceptably high staff turnover in the Dept of Agriculture has long been a stumbling block for wine industry leadership. Government and more specifically Agriculture needs to show some leadership, get some focus, stop messing around with the well being of the people and give the wine industry the attention that it deserves.
Through effective leadership, the industry could start to perform closer to its potential, start delivering a meaningful return for all and realise a ‘Grand Plan’ of uplifting an entire generation.
There will be much disagreement with the positions taken above, and many of these comments might be construed as being controversial. However, it would be my wish that the South African wine industry enter into more rigorous debate around the topic of leadership.
“If you don’t know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere.” Henry Kissinger