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The big interview: Dan Jago

Having joined Berry Bros & Rudd after successfully heading Tesco’s wine business, Dan Jago has had to make sweeping changes to bring the company back into the black. But now, he tells Patrick Schmitt MW, the merchant has a bright future.

Brand Dan is strong – strong enough to survive an accounting scandal at Tesco

Everything is of course harder when you’re tired, but I don’t recommend meeting Dan Jago after a bad night’s sleep. Now at the helm of two great British institutions, Berry Bros & Rudd (BBR) and the WSTA, he’s a force that requires the full attention of anyone in his company. And having spent more than an hour interviewing him, and keeping up with his repartee, as well as laughing at his jokes, it dawns on me that fewer than five hours’ sleep just isn’t enough for this intense personality (I had been up early for a radio interview before meeting Dan later at the BBR offices in London’s St James’s).

Mixing puppy-like enthusiasm for drinks with serious pronouncements on a range of issues, along with an openness and warmth rarely present in industry leaders, there’s a lot to admire and like about Dan, although his quick humour can be acerbic, and he certainly has no shortage of self-confidence.

Breaking with the drinks business house style, which refers to people by surnames, it seems only right to also reflect Dan’s informal manner by using his first name in this article.

Dan, too, is one of those industry figures who regularly gets ‘profiled’. That’s partly because of the illustrious nature of the positions he has held, particularly as group wine director at Tesco, which made him Britain’s biggest wine buyer, until he left in September 2015. But it’s also because, one suspects, he relishes the exposure from courting the press, and he’s adept at managing it.

Brand Dan is strong – strong enough to survive an accounting scandal at Tesco, which saw him suspended, reinstated, and, it should be stressed, completely cleared of any wrongdoing. Physically too, he is robust, looking younger than 56.

Although Dan is the new chairman of the WSTA, and will help steer the wine and spirits trade through the uncertain waters of drinks importing and exporting after Brexit, our main interest in him concerns his role as head of BBR, a wine merchant everyone in the trade knows by name, but, one suspects, not by nature.


Having joined the business straight from Tesco, few, if any, suspected that Dan would be the new head of the august merchant. While his appointment as BBR CEO might have been a surprise, the trade was quick to applaud the decision, seeing the combination of Dan’s old-school charm and business acumen as ideal for a merchant with a long history, but with a modern edge and potential for development. BBR was also a business with problems, requiring a strong character to trouble-shoot.

A prominent figure such as Dan should provide much-needed publicity – the country’s oldest wine and spirit merchant may benefit from high levels of recognition, but few people really understand its ethos and ambitions.

Recalling that BBR had been “leaderless for about six months” after former CEO Hugh Sturges had left in early 2015, Dan says “a pretty comprehensive search was done” to find a replacement, before admitting he was contacted by chairman Simon Berry “fairly early on in the process”. When the call came, and Simon explained the vacancy, and what he was looking for in a new leader, Dan told him: “That is exactly the job I want.” Dan says: “There was then a relentless pursuit of ensuring that they saw me as a suitable candidate.”

Why did the role of CEO at BBR appeal to him? “Because I knew so little about the merchant and I knew so much about it at same time,” he says. “I knew it was an extraordinary brand with a heritage and a reputation to die for, but I realised that I knew nothing about it and therefore something about the business wasn’t right – it wasn’t projecting itself to its customers in the way it should have been. “Until I’d been offered the job I had never stepped into No. 3 [BBR’s address since 1698 in St James’s Street, London] yet I’d been in the wine trade for 30 years.

“I’d never even come inside, and that said a lot to me about the way the business presented itself and the way I perceived it.” What did it say? “It said that the business was internally focused, it was quite introspective; it was living on reputation, perhaps, and while it was dealing with customers very well, it wasn’t necessarily attracting them, and it wasn’t projecting the brand in a way that is commensurate with an exceptional modern business.”

BBR was also failing to perform. “The business was in flux when I arrived, probably turmoil even,” he recalls. BBR had reported pre-tax losses of £11.35m for the 2014-2015 tax year, which were announced shortly after Dan joined the business, making them greater than 2012- 13’s £7.3m losses, which the business had described as “its darkest hour”.

Highlighting Dan’s confidence in his ability, and his belief in Berry’s potential, he says he rapidly saw what was needed. “I quickly worked out that BBR consisted of a series of different and autonomous business units, and there were, in effect, five separate companies, and within each one you had leadership, marketing, financial, administration, and they weren’t collaborating and weren’t supporting each other; there was no sense of one company. The challenges had come from a business that had grown up with its own people forever.

“It hadn’t had an opportunity to bring in external experiences – people with a different set of perspectives. There was some parts of the business – like the spirits business – that were a separate company entirely; that was more outward looking. And there was a very successful fine wine business, and other bits scattered around, and FMV [BBR’s wholesale arm].”

Shop talk: Berry Bros & Rudd’s new flagship store in St James’s


“The first thing I had to do was to bring the business together, both culturally and physically, so we ended up closing a couple of offices and bringing people together. We then said very clearly this is BBR – our on- and off-trade business happens to be called FMV but you all work for Berry Bros & Rudd.

“And you have three routes to market: the private-client business, the on- and off-trade business, which is wholesale, and the international business, which includes spirits and spirits distribution.”

Having streamlined BBR, the next task was to expand its scope. Notable under Dan’s tenure has been the increase in the number of tastings and dinners it hosts. According to Dan, the company did more paid events in the last year alone than all the previous years since it started private events in 2000.

Then there’s the use of the BBR brand in product development. “In spirits I am incredibly ambitious about what we can do as a brand developer as well as a brand owner. We do very well with Berry’s own-brand spirits, and you will see a pipeline of new product development – which will be compatible with us a brand; we can do lots more things.”

In wine too, Dan has made his mark, and BBR has now launched The Merchant’s Range, “in effect, an extension of the Berry’s Own Selection range – it is similar sorts of products but with greater volume capacity.”

One of his biggest changes has only just been completed – a physical shop. “I love bricks and mortar,” Dan says. BBR, which once had stores in Dublin, Heathrow and Hong Kong, today has just two outlets: a small shop window for its wines at No.3 St James’s and a bigger store in Basingstoke, where it has its bonded warehouse.

The other outlets were shut before Dan joined. “Being a retailer for the sake of it is a bad idea; being one as a profitable and brand-enhancing route to market is a very good idea.” He reveals the merchant is opening a new flagship London shop in St James’s, complete with Enomatic sampling machines and shelving for more than 1,000 wines and spirits. Describing the shop as “a wonderful space that completely reflects the Berry’s brand”. When asked, he says, this “is one foot in the past and one foot in the future”.

The store can be found in existing BBR office space at 63 Pall Mall, which is almost directly opposite the private members’ wine club, 67 Pall Mall. Meanwhile, the existing London store, No.3, “is going back to what it was – a place for welcoming customers. Our new shop will be larger and much more finely attuned to modern retail,” Dan explains.

Significantly, BBR owns the building where the new shop is situated. Dan says BBR had bought the property using the proceeds from the sale of its Scotch brand Cutty Sark, which was bought by The Edrington Group in 2010. “One of great things that the family did over the years is use the proceeds of Cutty Sark to buy property that is part of this island site so we go up the first bit of St James’s and down on Pall Mall, and it lets us do things like the new shop because it’s all ours; we don’t pay rent, which is very nice.”

In recent history, however, Berry’s has been more famous for e-commerce. This too, will receive a fillip under Dan’s management. “BBR was the first online retailer of wine in the world, in 1994,” he says. “It is an important part of what we do.

Online is about 10% of turnover – which is in keeping with a lot of business; at Tesco, about 7% of wine turnover was online. But it is bloody difficult, because the technology and customer expectations move forward as fast as you can get the technology behind it.”

As a result, he says: “The next big piece of work over the next 18 months will be creating a proper integrated digital platform, where customers can not only buy wine but also research it, they can see the wine they have in storage with us, they can understand the market pricing and opinions on those wines, so it becomes joined up from end to end in terms of buying and selling.” What about beer and BBR? “Well, we own 40% of a brewery,” he says, referring to its purchase of shares in North America’s Anchor Brewery in 2010.

“The reason we are a partner with Anchor is more to do with spirits and spirits distribution than anything else.” When asked whether the tie-up with the Californian brewer and distributor for the sake of building Berry’s spirits’ sales in the US has been successful, Dan, unusually, pauses, then says: “We haven’t lost money from doing it but I don’t think we have ever maximised the opportunity for the US for our business and our brand. The opportunity to work much more closely with Anchor is shouting from the rooftops.”

Where BBR has undoubtedly suffered financially has been in Hong Kong, where a long-running legal dispute with the merchant’s joint-venture partner there has been expensive, both because of the fees of fighting the case, but also because BBR has, in effect, had to start again on its own. Dan, however, is optimistic about the rebirth of the business in Hong Kong. “All the issues causing instability with Hong Kong when I arrived are definitely sorted out.

So Hong Kong is now rebuilding itself from where it was because it had taken quite a knockback. But there is a terrific team there, and we are still quite a big player in Hong Kong, with a very good split between private clients and wholesale.” Nevertheless, he admits that BBR doesn’t sell much in mainland China, while he believes that the merchant is unlikely to ever be as big as it was in Hong Kong and China.

“We are a long way off getting back to where we were because the peak of Hong Kong was the ‘09 and 10 en primeur when the business there was huge; I don’t think it will ever get back to where it was.” Dan may be the CEO, but he is answerable to a board made up of family members. Is that limiting? “The family are incredibly empowering,” he states.

“They give me a broad remit of what they want the business to be, so you know the basic principles. Number one is that we won’t sell it; we want to remain principally a wine and spirit merchant that has other strings to its bow, and we want to be an international business as well as a domestic one.”

BBR’s new shop at 63 Pall Mall contains a fine wine section


Dan says within these guiderails he is “free to do what I think is right within the business operationally and culturally, but the family is incredibly supportive. You would have to ask them if they are pleased with the progress, but I think they are. My job is to make the business fit for the next 300 years; that requires change.”

Does Dan see himself staying at BBR for the long term? He is someone who has shown great loyalty to his employers – his CV, while impressive, contains few changes.

“I’ve only had four jobs in my life. OK, so I spent two years at Laytons, but that basically doesn’t count. I was in the Royal Navy, at Bibendum and Tesco, and now I’ve got my fourth job. It’s quite amateurish compared with modern millennials who would have had four jobs by time they are 22; I’m pathetic,” he smiles.

Despite being at BBR for less than two years, he has turned around the company.

A combination of streamlining the business while expanding its scope, has put it in the black, and, although there have been a number of staff changes since he joined, particularly at a senior level, he points out that he has added to the company, bringing in almost 40 employees.

Finally, for those who think that someone clearly containing a brilliant brain for business such as Dan doesn’t need to push themselves, think again. “I always think I can do better,” he says.

This explains why he spent 16 years at Bibendum and 10 at Tesco. “You stay because you are enjoying it and you are learning. When I get to the stage where I think I can’t learn any more from a job then it is probably time to move on.”

In other words, one can confidently expect Dan, with his ambitions for BBR’s hospitality, retail, e-commerce, spirits, and its performance in the US and Asia, along with new product development, to be at this historic merchant for a long time to come.

(This interview first appeared in the June issue of the drinks business).

(Below and over the following pages are the key facts about BBR, as well as the highlights from Dan’s career and his views on his WSTA chairmanship).

BBR: key developments

1698: the company now known as Berry Bros. & Rudd was started by ‘Widow Bourne’ as a grocer at No. 3 St James’s Street, London. However, to focus on the changes over the past 50 years that have really shaped the business of today, they are:

1967: BBR became the first independent wine merchant to build temperature-controlled wine cellars, which were established in Basingstoke, Hampshire.

1994: BBR launched the first wine merchant’s website,

1994: BBR opens its first duty free wine shop, starting in Heathrow airport (but closes all its airport shops in 2006).

1998: BBR opens its first overseas shop in Harry Street, Dublin, but closes the store in 2009.

2010: BBR sells Cutty Sark, created by the family in 1923, to The Edrington Group, while, at the same time, buying The Glenrothes single malt from Edrington – and then in May this year, BBR sells The Glenrothes back to Edrington.

2010: BBR buys a 40% share in Anchor Brewers & Distillers in San Francisco.

2017: BBR opens a new flagship London shop at 63 Pall Mall.

Dan’s career to date

After nine years in the Royal Navy as a navigator, Dan’s career in the drinks trade began in 1988, when he joined Layton’s.

In 1990, he joined Bibendum Wine, setting up their off-trade agency division. He was appointed to the board in 2000, and became joint managing director in 2001.

In April 2006, Dan joined Tesco as category director for beers, wines and spirits (BWS).

In late 2012, Dan was appointed UK and group wine director with responsibility for Tesco’s overall wine sourcing and range development for all the business’ across the UK, Western and Central Europe and Asia.

In October 2015, Dan was appointed chief executive of Berry Bros. & Rudd.

In November 2016, Dan was named chairman of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA).

Dan on his WSTA chairmanship

“This is going to one of most exciting times for the wines and spirits industry in terms of complete change in the ground rules,” says Dan, explaining why he decided to take up the post in November last year as chairman of the WSTA – and, of course, referring to Brexit.

Continuing, he stresses that although he didn’t support Britain’s vote to leave the EU, he is now focused on finding the benefits for the UK drinks trade following the decision.

“I was an adamant ‘remainer’, but now that the decision has been made, I am absolutely committed to doing the best possible job that we can for the wine and spirits industry in being a trading nation with as many places in the world as we can.”

He says that he is dedicated to finding “ways of being a sustainable importer, but we also want to find ways of being a more ambitious exporter.”

He then adds, “The wind is behind us rather than in our face on this one at the moment I think.”

Indeed, Jago expresses his surprise at the possibilities that have emerged since Brexit.

“Both with my Berry Bros & Rudd hat on, and my WSTA hat on, I’ve been surprised at the enthusiasm we’ve had, and the discussions we’ve had because of Brexit, as much as challenges we face as the result of Brexit.”

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