Australia's largest wine company Southcorp has announced that it has appointed Thomas Burnet, currently the top man at Brown-Forman's wine business, as chief executive of its Americas operations.

In his 12 years at Brown-Forman, Burnet has held a number of other positions including two years as president advance markets group running the international spirits business and six years as senior vice president and chief financial officer.

Burnett who, will report to Southcorp chief executive Keith Lambert, takes over from John Gay, who has been appointed chairman of Southcorp's Americas operation.

Lambert said Burnet is "exceptionally well qualified to profitably grow Southcorp's business in the Americas."

Keith Lambert said: "Our business in the Americas has shown excellent volume growth and a strong profit contribution to the group, contributing 47%, or $AUD134 million, of group EBITA in 2002. Sales volumes stand at over 5 million cases, with Southcorp's premium core brands of Lindemans and Rosemount ranking in the top 20, and Penfolds having shown strong growth to 63rd ranking of all wine sold in the United States.

"Working with John we developed a plan to search for his successor who would take up the challenge for the future. Securing a person of Tom's calibre is testimony to the appeal of Southcorp's Americas business, based on its brand strength and growth potential. Tom is exceptionally well qualified to profitably grow Southcorp's business in the Americas.

"I am pleased that John Gay, who for the past 18 years has dedicated himself to developing the Australian wine industry in the Americas, has accepted the position of Chairman, Southcorp Wines the Americas. John will also take the leadership role in a number of key product development projects within Southcorp's wider business."

William M. Street, president of Brown-Forman Corporation, said: "We are sorry to be losing Tom and thank him for his many valuable contributions to Brown-Forman." Street said that no decision has been made regarding Burnet's successor as president of Brown-Forman Wines.