China’s leading importer appoints new CEO

China’s leading fine wine importer ASC Fine Wines has appointed a new CEO as Don St. Pierre Jr, co-founder and CEO of the business, becomes executive chairman of the board.

John Watkins

The new CEO, John Watkins, is a longstanding friend of Don St. Pierre Jr and Sr, but comes from outside the wine trade.

Writing to the drinks business about the changes today, Don St. Pierre Jr noted, “John Watkins is someone my father and I have known since we started ASC, and while John does not have any wine related business experience, he is we believe, one of the most successful professional managers in China, and he has a great passion for wine – he was in fact our very first home delivery customer!”

Watkins will take up his position on Monday 15 October and was most recently president & CEO at GE AVIC Civil Avionics Systems Company, where he led the establishment of the 50-50 joint venture between GE and China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC).

Prior to joining GE, Watkins was a corporate vice president of Cummins Inc. and chairman and CEO of Cummins (China) Investment Co., where he led Cummins team of 7,000 people in 21 locations in China.

Watkins has also held various senior positions at Northwest Airlines over 18 years.

Don St. Pierre Jr

Don St. Pierre Jr stressed that although his role at ASC Fine Wines was changing, his shareholding in the company would remain the same.

Explaining his decision to take up a new position, he added, “When my father and I started ASC in 1996, we could have never imagined how quickly the market for wine would develop in China; however what has been achieved up to now is really only the beginning, because it is only been over the past few years that Chinese wine consumers have started to take a real interest to learn about wine and make wine more than just something to drink for business related entertainment.”

Continuing, he noted, “Over the past 10 years we have grown from a company that employs fewer than 100 staff with three offices and revenue of less than US$8 million to a company that employs more than 1,200 staff with 26 offices and revenues in excess of US$200m, making ASC 6 to 7 times bigger than any of other foreign-owned wine-focused importer and 2 to 3 times bigger than any locally-owned wine-focused import/distribution company.

“As you might expect, this rapid growth has created some real challenges; these challenges are further magnified by the difficult and unpredictable operating environment which makes China so unique. Keep in mind, however, if it were not for this difficult environment, the opportunities for great success would be much less, hence we are not afraid of the challenges China presents, rather we embrace them, and up to now we have been better than any of our competitors in successfully managing them.”

Finally, he noted, “It is with these great opportunities and challenges in mind that I have decided to change my role from CEO to executive chairman of the board. I have made this decision because I believe ASC has reached a size and stage of maturity where it is imperative we have a professional CEO with the experience and capabilities to lead the entire team forward, hence the board and I have decided to appoint John Watkins to this role.”

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