Comment - Wehring's Way - The Accolades for Troy Christensen
Just over six months after Troy Christensen assumed the position of CEO for Constellation Europe, I was granted an audience with him. We met in London in the summer of 2007 and, after three different CEOs in four years, one could have been forgiven for fearing for Christensen's hold on the leadership hotseat.
But, five years - and one change of ownership - later, he was still there. Until this morning.
I got on very well with Christensen each time we met. I remember, on our first meeting, being impressed by his optimistic plans for Constellation's position in the UK wine market. In 2007, the company was better known for targeting volumes rather than value, much to the chagrin of many in the industry. That summer, however, Christensen was dead set on moving consumers up Constellation's value chain. “In the past,” he said at the time, “I think the viewpoint always started with price points and promotion schedules. What we need to really focus on now is branded quality, and we believe that consumers will pay for the quality.”
Within a year, however, these plans had been ravaged by the global downturn. If volumes were the name of the game before 2008, they were even more so after, and even today.
In late-2007, Constellation lined up the purchase of South Africa's Flagstone, and its viticulturalist and winemaker, Bruce Jack, came on board as supervisor and ambassador. In June 2008, I spoke to Jack, and I put it to him that Constellation was best known for looking to up volumes rather than drive values.
A week later, Christensen sent me a letter – a letter! - in which he most courteously pointed out how he was working to grow the premium wine category in the UK. “Hopefully,” he wrote, “you can see the steps we are trying to make in order to be a positive leader in the segment."
I hadn't received a letter for about five years prior to this one. Or since.
So, it was with some sadness that I wrote up today's announcement. Christensen was a legacy leader, after private equity firm CHAMP bought the unit in late-2010, and came to Constellation with high hopes, only for the more general economic climate to batter those hopes into submission.
It won't have been for want of trying, though.
One final aside: The timing and the handling of his departure surprised me. The statement - which didn't detail why he was stepping down - was released in the morning here in the UK. The contact details for CHAMP referred us to Sydney, where it was past 2200. On a Friday. At the same time, Christensen's details had been removed from Accolade's website in double-quick time.
Whatever's happened, here's hoping Christensen is enjoying a glass or two of something expensive this weekend.
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