The big interview: Dan Jago


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].”

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