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Saturday 30 August 2014

The lion tamer

6th November, 2003 by db_staff - This article is over multiple pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

He’s taken on one of the toughest jobs in the wine industry, getting Australian brewing giant Lion Nathan’s wine house in order. Chris Orr meets Peter Cowan

PETER COWAN, managing director of wines and spirits at Lion Nathan, seems genuinely surprised at the interest shown in his division of the Australian drinks giant.  "You know basically, in the world of Lion Nathan, wines account for less than 20% of assets and cash flow, and yet I seem to get all the air time," he says in a softly spoken, but bemused voice.

"I guess perhaps it is because it’s seen as the growth engine of the business."  Well, there is that, combined with relatively static beer sales for the company, and the small detail that to date, Lion Nathan has spent more than A$400m acquiring a variety of wine portfolios, among them St Halletts, Preece, Tatachilla and Wither Hills – which presumably means that a return on investment is expected somewhere down the line? "Undoubtedly," says Cowan.

 "But you have to have a long-term game plan, particularly in the fine wine sector.  It’s absolutely critical."  Cowan is a soberly dressed South African who, in a quiet but persistent manner, is happy to call a spade a spade – something he has in common with his rather more raucous Australian counterparts.

He is also the first to admit that the strategy he and his colleagues have adopted for the wine division over the last 12 months is fairly untypical for the market.  "Our business model is different from most.  But then so is our structure and our components. 

When I first came on board a year ago, we had all these wonderful assets, all these iconic wines and wineries, but to be honest we’d operated on a very tactical basis, very opportunistically.  We needed to switch to a much more strategic solution and that’s what we’ve been working on."

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