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Lay & Wheeler appoints new managing director and bolsters team

Fine wine merchant Lay & Wheeler has appointed James Kowszun, COO of its parent company, Coterie Holdings, as its new managing director. It is one of a series of appointments designed to bolster its executive and buying teams. 

Kowszun joined Coterie Holdings in January, having previously worked alongside CEO Michael Saunders at Bibendum between 2009-2016 as chief operating officer and group finance director, before being brought back by Saunders to revive the company in 2018 following Conviviality’s collapse and C&C’s acquisition of Bibendum. In his new role, he will have responsibility for overseeing and driving forward the implementation of the company’s strategy.

The company has also strengthened the management team by appointing Alice Cave, its head of private client sales since 2022, as sales director, in order to drive sales globally. Prior to joining Lay & Wheeler in September 2020, Cave spent six years at Berry Bros. & Rudd.

Meanwhile wine buyer Catherine Jaën MW, who has been with the company since January 2020, has been promoted to buying director, overseeing the expansion of Lay & Wheeler’s geographic portfolio with Spain & Portugal, North & South America, Australia & New Zealand, and spirits.

It has also bolstered its buying team by appointing the world’s youngest Master of Wine, Robert Mathias MW, as senior wine buyer. Mathias, who was at Bibendum for nine years, but joins Lay & Wheeler after 18 months at Bordeaux Index, will be supported by Jemma Grant, who has been promoted to wine buyer.

The team will be overseen by Coterie Holdings wine director, Andrew Shaw, who joined Coterie in March 2024 from Marks and Spencer.

Speaking to the drinks business last week, Coterie Holding’s CEO Michael Saunders revealed the company’s ambitious plans to expand internationally, with Lay & Wheeler likely to be rolled out into new jurisdictions on the back of Coterie’s fine wine storage company, Coterie Vaults.

Saunders also talked about the importance of having a team of people in the business “that you really trust and really know their game”.

In April, Lay & Wheeler reported marginal sales increases for the year to April 2023 (0.3% year-on-year) although it incurred operating losses “in line with pre-year expectations” due to its consolidation of its wine storage and logistics in-house as part of its five-year investment plan.

Since Lay & Wheeler was bought by private family group Coterie Holdings in October 2019, turnover at the fine wine merchant has nearly doubled, from £15.27 million in the year to April 2019 to £27.148 million in 2023.

Read more:

Coterie Holdings reveals ambitious international expansion plans 

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