It takes a brave step to give up a well paid job in finance to throw your hat into a sector where you don’t have any contacts or experience. But such is Vidya Narasimhan’s passion for wine she has been prepared to do that and make a fresh start in the wine industry. Here she sets out why she thinks her background in private equity can be particularly useful for wine companies looking to grow and how she hopes she can bring the worlds of finance and wine closer together in the latest in our Onwards & Upwards series.
If you have ambitious plans for growth and looking for finance to help it happen then Vidya Narasimhan is well placed to help. Here she explains why…
Tell us about your career to date and why you have followed the path you have?
My career has mostly been in the corporate world in management consulting and banking across India, US and the UK and more recently in the wine industry in the UK. I deliberately sought out a transition because I wanted to leverage my skills in areas that I am passionate about – food and wine.
It is quite a switch from banking and management consultancy to food and wine – why did you want to make the change?
Indeed, it’s quite a change from management consulting and banking to food and wine. I was keen to make the change as I wanted better balance between what I can do -my ability to learn anything new, to understand and break down complex issues and processes to simpler solvable issues – and what I like to do which is to share my passion for food and wine as well as have a better balance in life and not always be at a desk.
How did you go about doing it?
While I loved to talk about food and wine, before making a full-time transition to food and wine, I did a few things: I shared my passion with my trusted managers and mentors; they encouraged me to spend more time thinking about what a career in food and wine would look like and to network with people in the food and wine industry. As I spoke to people in the wine industry, I got to know that while I may have transferable skills, it’s very important to educate myself about wine and to spend more time on social media to share my passion beyond my friends. So, I switched to a four day work week while educating myself about wine and started attending as many wine tastings as I could in my spare time.
Once I had the confidence to switch to a career in food and wine, I quit my banking job while knowing that I didn’t have a specific role lined up, but gave myself time to establish myself in my new chosen career.
Was doing the WSET important to you in terms of making the change?
Absolutely. Wine education is easily one of the ‘no-brainer’ ways to establish credibility in the wine industry and the WSET courses are solid foundations for the same.
Doing Level 2 about 5 years ago kindled my excitement to pursue further wine studies. I did Level 3 while I was working four days a week and doing well in Level 3 gave me the external validation and confidence to quit my job.
You also have done the Wine Scholar Guild Programmes – what is that and what does it entail?
The Wine Scholar Guild (WSG) is another provider of wine study and certification programmes offering specialisations in French, Spanish and Italian wines, and membership webinars on various wine topics. One can choose to focus one’s study on the wines of one of these countries. These courses cover significant detail about wines in each of those countries and are structured in an easy-to-understand manner.
The exam format of the WSG is also different from the advanced WSET programmes (the WSG programmes have objective questions with multiple choice answers). The WSG programmes are offered online as well as though local education providers like the West London Wine School in the London area.
What are you now hoping to do in the wine industry – what particular roles and consultancy are you looking to go into?
When I made the transition to the wine industry, I didn’t have a specific role in mind and I continue to work freelance. One of these freelance roles that I perform is that of an Investment Origination and Introduction Advisor to Private Equity Firms that evaluate candidates for investment and that are keen to work collaboratively with current management without necessarily replacing them. I am also looking to write with commercial insight on wine topics like how to fund new businesses in wine, orchestrating commercially successful sustainable wine initiatives.
I am passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion in the wine industry and to make learning about wine more accessible and enjoyable. I have taken on the role of an ambassador for ‘Be Inclusive Hospitality’ that was set up a couple of years ago by Lorraine Copes.
What skills and experience do you have that you think is particularly relevant to the wine sector?
My global business experience combined with strong analytical skills, an ability to connect with professionals and an unwavering willingness to learn and appreciate wine are all relevant to the wine sector.
Are you looking to bring your finance, private equity, investments skills into the wine industry?
Indeed, I am looking to bring my background in understanding what makes for successful commercial initiatives to the wine industry. I work with investment managers in private equity firms who are always looking to invest in companies collaboratively that are strong candidates with solid growth plans in the wine industry and I am looking to bridge the connection between both for an agreed fee. So, if you are running a profitable operation with ambitious growth plans in the wine industry and are looking for additional capital injection from private equity firms that want to work collaboratively with management, they can reach out to me directly via Linked-In.
How have you found the wine industry in terms of finding work, contacts and networking?
Fortunately, I have found the wine industry friendly and welcoming for me as I seek advice and to make connections although it’s a slow process as I balance my wine education and work. Some of these contacts have given me brutally honest advice that I am grateful for as I have been able to make informed choices. Some of the advice I have receive includes: “You need to make the transition to the wine industry to be taken seriously and not juggle with an intense full-time day job”; or “nothing pays as much as banking does, so don’t expect to make money in wine; people transition into wine because it’s their passion”.
What aspects of the wine industry do you find most interesting and why?
I find it very fascinating that we can leverage science and business to leave our planet in a better shape for future generations to enjoy life’s simple pleasures of appreciating good food and wine with our friends and family and preserving ways of living despite changing climate and times.
What are your hopes and ambitions for the next two to three years?
My hopes are to see the world of wine become truly inclusive and welcoming for women and people of colour, more intentional in having a lower carbon footprint via innovative transport and packaging solutions and less toxic to our planet by utilising better products with no compromise on quality.
My ambition in the immediate term is to lend my voice to initiatives in these areas by writing with insight to increase awareness, by forging connections between producers and investment firms to launch and implement such initiatives successfully while continuing my wine education and appreciation.
- If you would like to contact Vidya Narasimhan you can also email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.