If you compared the competitive world of national wine and drink distributors to the grid of Formula 1 teams then Enotria&Coe, by its own admission, would not be in pole position. In fact, it could be said to be taking a quick pit stop, according to its new chief executive, Julian Momen, as it looks to regroup, retune, and upgrade its engine to help regain its leadership position. Here, in his first major set piece interview, he sits down alongside chief financial officer, Steven Lindsay, who joined the company in February, to set out their new vision for the business and how they hope to re-energise Enotria’s people, products and processes to ensure its customers and producers receive the level of service and support they need and deserve. It makes for a fascinating insight into the new strategy, driven by business management disciplines picked up from other FMCG and industry experiences, that they hope will positively enhance the way Enotria&Coe operates.
“We have to ensure continuity of supply, with an even better service proposition, driven by excellence in everything we do, and relationships which are great at all levels. If we can do those things, then the business will speak for itself.” That’s the challenge for Enotria&Coe and the opportunity for its customers, says its new chief executive, Julian Momen.
From the moment he starts talking, you can tell Julian Momen is cut from a different cloth than many of his new peers in the world of national wine and spirits drinks distribution. In fact, it is a good half an hour into our conversation before he even mentions the word ‘wine’ or ‘spirits’.
Not that he is not interested in the sectors, far from it, it’s just that the immediate demands and needs in his new role as chief executive of Enotria&Coe are much more about getting the business and operational side of things right, before getting immersed in the nitty, gritty of wine harvests, grape varieties, and different styles of spirit.
He is also refreshingly open about the need to “reset” Enotria&Coe from the position it is in and what he describes as a “revitalisation of the business”.”
An opportunity to press hard now to make sure the company is ready to create strong momentum in 2024 and then see “more sizeable rewards” in 2025 is the overarching short-term goal.
“We need to take our opportunity to focus on what we do best and not get sidelined. We need to get back to the core of what we do so well and what we are renowned for,” says Momen.
He is quietly confident that the Enotria&Coe team are capable of not only rising to the challenge, but surpassing his expectations and making the most of the still growing opportunities in premium wine and spirits.
Momen makes for a fascinating interviewee. Particularly when comparing him to other wine and spirit leaders, most of whom have been brought up in the sector and moved up through the industry. For this is Momen’s first job in wine and spirits.
It’s not, though, his first role in drinks, having had spells at Diageo and most significantly as CFO and then chief executive at Carlsberg UK. There he was responsible for a major transformation of the business, executing a new strategy, revitalising its brand portfolio and securing critical improvements in the company’s financial health and stability during his time in charge between 2016 and 2019.
“We completely reshaped the business and with it a big cultural change. It was a lot of hard work, a lot of change and with it, we had to take a lot of difficult decisions,” he says.
That included getting the right management team around him and then the support of the wider business team in implementing much needed changes. For all that to work, it meant “really understanding where we put all our energies” and focusing on “what was core to what we do,” stresses Momen. “The response of the team at Carlsberg was amazing and we were all truly proud of our achievements.”
Momen’s people focused approach and the impact he and his team were able to have at Carlsberg was likely a key factor in Enotria&Coe’s private equity owners – BlueGem Capital Partners – bringing him in to head up the business.
“I was approached by Enotria through a mutual friend and they were very open about the position of the company and as I looked at it, I sensed what was needed was very similar to what we had to do at Carlsberg. I like challenges and this felt like an exciting opportunity to create belief and take the business and its people on a positive, rewarding journey. Having done it before, it gave me a real desire to take on the role,” he explains.
It was a similar situation for Steven Lindsay when he joined earlier in the year as chief financial officer after a wide and varied career working across a number of industries, including Papa John’s International, Skanska UK and McKinney Rogers Group where he supported the development of large global brands, including spirits.
New building blocks
What particularly encourages Momen and Lindsay are the “operational aspects of the business”. They may “not be in the best of shape, but the fundamentals of the business remain strong”.
As Momen explains, Enotria is blessed with a range of superb wines and a portfolio of wine partners that are the still “envied by others” and “hugely attractive to our customers”. “What is particularly encouraging”, says Momen, “is that even through some challenging periods, our customers and suppliers have remained extremely supportive”.
“We truly appreciate the loyalty our partners have shown us. We know that we may not have always turned up as promised, but our task now is to turn that around and provide the positive experience we have been known for in the past.”
“You also have to remember,” adds Lindsay, “that the company enjoyed its best ever year in 2019 and then Covid played a big part in knocking it off course.”
What’s been key for Lindsay in being able to really get grips with the business, is understanding the detail quickly and forming close relationships with internal and external stakeholders. Lindsay pointed out the company has an abundance of easily assessable data, which so often in big business is hard to access and make sense of.
He explains: “Coming into the business, unlike many I’ve seen, there were some really good processes in place and the core systems were robust and fit for purpose, which was a big positive. There was also a lot of data and the key has been getting the most out of it to help us analyse the right things and then make better informed decisions.”
He has from a finance point of view looked to tighten up “the rigour and controls” around reporting processes, so that all departments are operating more efficiently and there is full visibility around sales and business performance.
More KPIs (key performance indicators) have been introduced across the management group that are aligned to what the overall business strategy is looking to achieve. “It’s understanding what the strategy is, then aligning the business, the reporting and the KPIs to achieve success,” says Lindsay.
It’s what Momen refers to as a “good business rhythm and discipline”, working to a series of annual reviews alongside regular monthly checks, balances and reporting. “The business cycle”, he says, “allows us to run the business as effectively as we possibly can, securing the best possible information at the right time to make the right business decisions more quickly.”
He is particularly keen that the business improves its S&OP – sales and operational planning – expertise. Momen sees this as one of the most “fundamental processes” within any FMCG business. “I would put it right up there at the top in terms of importance,” he says.
Leadership and vision
The loyalty and commitment of its customers and suppliers cannot be underestimated, adds Lindsay, and is testimony to the “heritage” and strength of its portfolio, but also the “expertise” within the business that has been built up over the last 50 years.
The “commitment and loyalty” of Enotria’s team very much reminds Momen of the dedication and willingness “to go the extra mile” that he experienced at Carlsberg. “The passion and pride that our people show for Enotria, and its wines and spirits portfolio, is unquestionable. That in itself puts you in a great place when seeking their buy in to a new approach.”
It is that expertise that Momen and Lindsay have turned to first in being able to truly understand where the main issues lie and how to fix them.
“My philosophy when trying to understand a business is to talk and listen to its people, try to create an environment of openness, present yourself in the right way and then take it all in. From there, understand what is and is not right, what’s working and not working, and then it’s all about trying to reach the right people to help solve the problems or take the opportunities,” explains Momen.
Lindsay says it is very much about “empowering people” to make more decisions for themselves. He has seen a positive response and believes people “really warm to that approach and level of interest” in what they are doing and “now have an opportunity to get involved” and for everyone in the company “to raise the game”.
“They now have a platform to say it as it is and know that we are listening,” he adds.
Playing your part
“Everyone will have a different leadership style,” adds Momen, and his is very much “people focused” with an eager eye on “our customers”.
“I am keen to set the right tone. I want more participation and inclusion, allow all individuals to play a more active part in how we take the business forward. So more of their ideas and suggestions as to how we can make this business operate more effectively,” he adds.
A good example of that, he says, is the development of the company vision and a refresh of its values and behaviours. When he asked the question “where do you think we are heading as a business?” his team have not always been able to articulate this clearly. Similarly, there doesn’t seem to be a real connection to the company’s current values and a lack of understanding about what they stand for and what they really mean.
The challenge for everyone in the company is to be aligned behind the core fundamentals of the business – “What’s our purpose? Why are we here? What’s the essence of the business?”, asks Momen. “We need to set out that purpose, vision and ambition, so that our people understand what we’re aiming for, what’s the goal, what’s the destination point. Creating belief around all of these will generate the energy and excitement for the journey ahead,” he adds.
Beyond this, having structure around the strategy is equally critical: “What are the strategic pillars that are going to hold the business together, and then what are the priority ‘projects’ that sit behind these? With those things clearly laid out, we can feel more comfortable that we are focused on the right things to achieve our overall goals and heading together towards our vision as one team”.
Passion and belief
To help get that “passion” and “belief” in the business under way, Momen has set up an internal group called the “Vitis”, made up of trusted people from different areas of the business who each have their own “influence, network and authority” they can bring to the table.
They have been set the task of sharing their perspective on the purpose and vision of the business, and then creating some new values and behaviours for the company, which better resonate with its people and are clear to those externally. Vitis will also provide feedback on the ambition and strategic pillars set out by the executive team – and assess whether they feel achievable and are motivated by them.
“I am not telling them what to do other than lay down a few markers, but beyond this I have already told the group that I want them to help the exec team and I in pushing this up through the organisation,” says Momen. “I am confident this approach will drive huge excitement about the journey we have ahead of us and it will also help galvanise us as a team and avoid silo thinking and activity. Ultimately, we achieve as a team.”
Across the Exec and then the senior leadership team, Momen wants to see better communication, more information sharing and a greater level of participation “creating the right environment for constructive challenge and enabling positive tension will eventually get us to better, more informed decision making”.
From an external point of view, Momen and Lindsay are keen to get out and talk to partners – suppliers, producers and customers – and hear how they feel about Enotria&Coe, what they would like to see improved, but also to gain clarity on their vision and strategic ambitions.
“It’s about presenting ourselves honestly in terms of where we are and what we are trying to achieve, but most definitely it’s about listening,” he says, as well as giving the “reassurance” and “commitment” that changes are being made to help improve service performance.
“Our partners have all been really positive about Enotria, despite frustrations that we have not been able to do more for them. We really appreciate the support we have received and are keen to get the business back to a quality of delivery in every sense,” says Lindsay.
Long term security
Momen’s arrival at Enotria, initially as chief operating officer in August, before moving up to chief executive in early October, also marked the departure of its long-standing predecessor, Troy Christensen, who returned to the United States in the summer.
Momen is quick to recognise and pay tribute to the hugely significant role Christensen played in modernising the business and introducing sweeping management, structural and business changes in his near 10 years in charge, including acquiring leading spirits distributor, Coe Vintners, and re-inventing the company as Enotria&Coe.
Big changes in a company of the size and influence of Enotria&Coe are always going to get the industry rumour mill working at full speed and Lindsay says it’s not surprising others in its competitive set have looked to take a strategic short-term gain of its position.
“If there are rumours that we are up for sale, then to be clear, we are not,” stresses Lindsay, and that there are steps that have already been put in place to secure and restabilise its future. “The fact someone of the calibre of Julian is now onboard reflects the long-term positive change there is at Enotria,” says Lindsay.
“Our owners believe in us and have confidence in our people delivering for the future. The passion and energy that people have in our business is pretty remarkable given some of the challenges and hurdles that they have had to take on over the last few years.”
The fact both he and Momen have come into the wine and spirits arena having enjoyed strong careers in other sectors is also a vote of confidence in the business.
They are both able to bring “best practices” from successful companies from other industries.
“Being able to bring some fresh ideas and fresh thinking from outside the wine industry is really going to help,” says Lindsay.
Momen too is “excited” about the potential the business now has to really deliver on its premium wine and spirits credentials and present a formidable offer and service for its customers.
“If we can excel in our supply and service, provide quality in everything we do at all levels and develop great relationships, then the business will speak for itself. I have no doubt we can achieve on all those things, if we present ourselves in the right way and with the right mindset.”
This Momen knows will translate into better outcomes for Enotria’s customers and ensure that the company’s investors are happy.
In terms of short, medium and long-term goals, Momen says: “We are gearing ourselves up to be in the best possible place to make sure we deliver a great Christmas and then ensure the business significantly develops its proposition through 2024. We shall continue to premiumise our portfolio, ensure that we have the faith and trust of our partners and take our service to the next level. Of course, there is still a lot to do and more to work on, but I can already see the increase in energy and passion to make this a great place to be and ensure every interaction with customers is a positive one. It’s so important to me that we have our people, those who will make this happen, with me on this exciting journey.”
The big incentive for everyone at Enotria, including its suppliers and customers, is it continues to operate for the most part in the growing premium end of the wine and spirits market.
“The premium end of the market is still attractive and that is good for us, our customers and our suppliers. Part of our job is to help grow the category and the market, and to be sure we lead as much as possible,” he says.
A year on…
So where would Momen and Lindsay like the business to be in 12 months’ time?
Lindsay says he hopes to “reward” success for their people and to “recognise the commitment they have made to Enotria in getting it to a new place in 2024”.
Momen adds: “I would like to hear from our teams about the many positive opportunities we have nailed during the year and the change in how it feels in the business, and then, of course, hear that customers and suppliers are feeling even more positive about their future with us.”
Lindsay says its business plan for the year ahead “is challenging, but achievable” and focused on “some must win battles” that the senior leadership team are fully on board with and aligned to”.
“We all recognise that the next few months are about delivering for customers, but also resetting the base and being prepared for January to revitalise the business as we head into 2024,” he adds.
“2024 is a critical year, but the bigger opportunity is the year after,” stresses Momen. “In a sense, next year is the turnaround and then it’s about driving the momentum, recovering lost positions and seeking further benefits for all our stakeholders. The history and heritage of this business, borne from humble beginnings, deserves for it to be sat in a much better place.”
- Enotria&Coe is a business partner of The Buyer. Click here to find out more about the business and how it is run.