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Shared wine business can spell disaster if not well managed

The challenge of successfully running a small or medium-sized wine business where ownership is shared is the focus of the 2008 Wine Roadshow being staged across Australia by leading wine lawyers Finlaysons.

Finlaysons Wine Partner Will Taylor said everyone loses where – as often happens — two or more branches of a family are split over how to run a wine business or what their aspirations are.

“We’ve dealt with many cases where family members, whether siblings, cousins, or others want the business to go in a different direction or be run in a different way,” Mr Taylor said. “If that’s not managed well, it can be disastrous, not just for the business, but for the family too.”

It can be equally fraught moving from being a solely-owned family business to having an external investor involved, unless the right legal and financial framework is established and followed, he said.

The 16th annual Finlaysons Wine Roadshow, titled ‘Getting the Blend Right’, will offer legal, commercial and financial advice to deal with these issues as it tours Australia’s major wine producing regions – including Tasmania, the Yarra Valley, Rutherglen, Riverina, Hunter Valley, Barossa, McLaren Vale, Margaret River and Coonawarra from August 4-September 1.

“The Australian wine industry gets much of its character from its family flavour,” says Mr Taylor, Finlaysons wine practice leader, who is himself a vigneron.

“But if ownership is shared within the broader family, the business must be run for the benefit of all stakeholders and with proper business processes in place to ensure that everyone’s interests are considered and seen to be considered.”

“This is becoming more and more of an issue as the baby boomers, who entered the industry during the boom years of the 1990s, are handing over the baton to the next generation. This often involves a sharing of ownership,” he said.

“Similar issues arise with the introduction of external investors into family companies that may be seeking to grow or are strapped for cash in the difficult circumstances the industry is currently facing”, he said.

The Finlaysons Wine Roadshow takes legal, commercial and financial business expertise to winemakers, grapegrowers and wine industry suppliers in major wine regions.

The forum regularly flags issues for the industry’s agenda. In keeping with its early warning on the risks of climate change for the industry two years ago, this year’s event will again be carbon neutral, with Finlaysons purchasing fully-certified carbon credits to render the Wine Roadshow greenhouse gas emission free.

Mr Taylor will address this year’s Roadshow on ‘Your legal obligations where ownership is shared and getting the structure right.’

Other issues to be addressed will include:

• Managing the workforce with both family and non-family employees – Grant Archer, Workplace Partner, Finlaysons • Ensuring appropriate financial disciplines are in place – Stephen Harvey, Partner, Deloitte, and • Buying out one branch of the family or getting in an investor – Toby Langley, Partner, Gaetjens Langley.

“If winemakers and grapegrowers don’t get this right, I’ve seen from experience that it can have disastrous ramifications for the business and the family. Both can be torn apart,” Mr Taylor said.

“They need to take this every bit as seriously as they do producing quality grapes and wines.

They owe it to the next generation, as well as themselves, to get it right.”

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WID 2017