Why has Accolade Wines lost another CEO? - Editor's Viewpoint

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When it comes to HR announcements, the departure of a chief executive always gets the juices flowing. Where are they going? Why are they going? Who is replacing them?

Accolade Wines has had three CEOs in five years

Accolade Wines has had three CEOs in five years

When the announcement isn't even an announcement, however, then you'll forgive us for being a mite suspicious. The confirmation by Accolade Wines on Tuesday of an internal memo detailing Paul Schaafsma's plans to stand down within the next ten months is just such a curious turn. Where is he going? Why is he going? Who is replacing him?

Far more pertinently, though: Why didn't you tell us?

In the five years since Accolade Wines came into being - when Constellation Brands sold 80% of its Australian and UK wine operations to CHAMP Private Equity for AUD290m (then-US$290m) - the company has been noticeably pro-active in its external communications; in itself quite a compliment for a private equity-owned company. Activities such as Hardy's sponsorship of England and Australia's cricket teams and Anakena's UK tie-up with the Lawn Tennis Association have been loudly shouted about, with senior executives regularly being made available to speak to.

Schaafsma's departure, however, which is scheduled to kick in before CHAMP launches Accolade's AUD1bn (US$768m) IPO, has not been communicated externally. Indeed, bar confirmation of the internal notification, the company has formally declined to comment further, for the time being.

Then, there is the revolving-door nature of the CEO-ship of Accolade. CHAMP inherited Troy Christensen in the role back in 2011 - he lasted less than two years. Then, it took the firm another year to appoint a new chief exec: John Ratcliffe took the reins in February 2014, but he too didn't get to his second anniversary.

And this week, just 11 months after taking over, Schaafsma's departure was confirmed.

The backdrop to Tuesday's news does offer some suggestions why Schaafsma is leaving - although Accolade's claim that he "didn't want to commit to the role for the next few years" doesn't tally with me. His ebullience when I interviewed him earlier this year suggested quite clearly that he had finally got his dream job.

CHAMP's IPO, expected to launch before June next year, will result in a change of ownership for Accolade. Could this be a factor in Schaafsma's exit? It's unlikely: The executive has experience of working for a listed company through his 14 years with Australian Vintage, prior to joining Accolade.

The other background factor that I can see is Brexit. Since the UK voted to leave the European Union at the end of June, Sterling's exchange rate has taken a battering - a fact that has hit (coincidentally) Australian Vintage hard. The referendum will have sounded alarm bells at Accolade's headquarters: The UK accounts for in the region of 60% of group sales. Couple the company's now-urgent need to look to other markets for growth, with Schaafsma's previous experience with both Accolade and Australian Vintage as GM of the UK & Ireland, then could he now be deemed to be in over his head as group CEO? If that is the case, then why was he appointed in the first place?

As a future pointer for the company, consider that Schaafsma's successor, Michael East, is Accolade's general manager for, among other markets, Asia.

Schaafsma is certainly one of our industry's more colourful individuals – we have a two-part interview from earlier this year that can attest to this claim. Suitably, as the present evidence suggests, his pending exit from Accolade is far from black and white.

Sectors: HR – personnel, Wine

Companies: Accolade Wines

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