Tolley leaves AWBC in good shape

Name: Sam Tolley

After 13 years as the chief executive of the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation (AWBC) Sam Tolley has stepped down to explore other interests. During his tenure he has overseen the incredible growth of Australian exports and was a key figure in the conception, development and marketing of the Directions 2025 strategy that was launched last year. He has been instrumental in establishing and maintaining relationships with key international organisations like The Federation of International Wine and Spirits (FIVS) and the International Organisation of Wine and Vine (OIV).

'It has been an exciting time but also a hectic time and I think I am now ready to follow-up new interests,' Tolley said. 'I am very satisfied with what the corporation has achieved, as I am with its sound financial position, and I am extremely positive about the sector's future, despite the recent challenges thrown up by the drought and international competition.' His resignation is effective from February 7.

Tolley joined the AWBC in 1994 after working in the industry at the family firm of AE & F Tolley and Wirra Wirra wines. During his time as chief executive, Australia's wine exports have grown from $360 million to $3 billion a year and the AWBC has expanded from 15 staff to 60, including seven overseas offices.

AWBC chairman John Moore says some of Tolley's more significant achievements include:

Development of an effective wine export approval system and Label Integrity Program

Providing greater access to international markets through international agreements, notably the initialling of the Wine Agreement with the European Union

Australia's participation in government and industry international wine forums, including the OIV

Increased information and analysis for the wine sector including a comprehensive, multilingual website to facilitate distribution and use of the AWBC's services

Establishing a network of offices overseas

Innovative marketing strategies and tools, including the segmentation of Australian wine into distinct personalities, online education modules and podcasts.

It's also worthy to note than during Tolley's time at the AWBC, industry scandals have been but a few. There was the silver nitrate issue in 2000 but the AWBC got on the front foot. 'When we've had our integrity threatened I think we have acted swiftly and comprehensively,' Tolley said.

'Our standing in the international community as a result of the silver nitrate scandal went up, not down.' This is because the AWBC maintained an active and timely follow through with the international wine community. He says by doing that the relationships remained strong.

But looking to the future Tolley says there are still major challenges that need to be tackled. The environment, water, marketing and the anti-alcohol lobby are a few and he says that there's a continuing need for education, not just at tertiary level, but for all of industry.

Another challenge is the distribution of information. At one time the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) provided the industry with information but this received criticism for not being comprehensive enough so the AWBC began to source its own statistics and forward them on to the ABS. Nowadays the AWBC has established Winefacts that provides market analysis, yield information and State by State breakdowns of varieties processed, for example.

'We started doing basic statistics and this has evolved to become supply and demand analysis,' Tolley said. 'This has a lot of power because if we are able to provide solid information and analysis, then I think it's the best way the industry can avoid peaks and troughs.'

He says if better information was available in the 1990s, the levels of planting might not have been as high.

So what of future information? Tolley says that when planning began for Directions 2025 the wine community was asked what future expectations were. 'We found that people were so overly optimistic in relation to the reality that we concluded they were missing some information and were not undertaking adequate processes,' he said. 'They didn't understand their target market well enough.' In an ever changing world with faster communication streams and more information becoming available, Tolley says the challenge is to ensure that people use the available information well and that they use the correct information.

But generally, Tolley is upbeat about the wine industry's future. He says the infrastructure at a peak industry body level (nationally, State-based and regionally) is good, there is world-class tertiary education and research and development facilities in operation and the ability to form and maintain relations is one of Australia's major strengths. 'Australia punches well above its weight in the international wine industry and we are very well regarded,' he said.

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