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Those who are interested in Austrian wine are probably aware that there has been a change of leadership at the Austrian Wine Marketing Board not so long ago: last year in December, Wilhelm Klinger announced that he would step back from his duties as a Managing Director. His successor, Chris Yorke, has been elected after following a thorough multi-stage selection process involving more than 90 applicants, led AWMB in the early 2020.
Chris Yorke, Managing Director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, spoke about his new position, plans and the impact of the epidemic on the wine business in the interview with Drinks’o’clock.
DoC: Mr. Yorke, studying your biography from official sources, it can be noted that your career was previously connected with the wine sector. Then you radically changed businesses: American Express NZ, Sony Card Europe, Roche Pharma (Welwyn Garden City), ICI Agrochemicals. Why did you change the spectrum of professions? What important professional qualities have you gained in so many different positions? How are they helping you now?
Ch.Y.: You are right I did work with a number of international companies, but this was before I entered the wine world. The common thread with this international business experience was that the target audience was always premium and international. Understanding the premium consumer and how her/his tastes change over time and in different countries is one of the key skills needed to do my job well.
DoC: Why did you decide to participate in candidates’ selection for the position of the Managing Director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board? What attracts you to the wine sector?
Ch.Y.: I had been Global Marketing Director for New Zealand Wine based in New Zealand for 15 years, so I had been aware of Austrian Wine for a long time. I had spoken to many international influencers who I asked who did the best generic marketing and often I got the answer: Austrian Wine! When I then heard that the position was becoming vacant I initially was unsure whether they would accept an international candidate. They said they would choose the best candidate. Along with 90 other candidates I went through the process and was lucky enough to be appointed.
DoC: You were elected as the Managing Director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board after a thorough multi-stage selection process, in which more than 90 candidates participated. Tell us more about the selection stages, what was the assignment, who were your competitors?
Ch.Y.: It was a competitive process with a number of interviews and then a presentation to the Board. The interviews I was able to undertake by skype as I was in New Zealand. The final interview and presentation to the Board was carried out in Vienna, so I flew 30 hours each way to take part. It was a confidential process so I don’t really know the identity of the other applicants. However, one applicant who I have subsequently managed to recruit into my management team is Christian Zechmeister, who is now responsible for Austria, Germany and our regions. Christian has great experience so I think to overall quality of applicants was high.
DoC: Were there any words of encouragement from the ex-Managing Director? How was the transfer of the administration control going – how long did it take? Did you communicate a lot? What is the especially important information you have got from Willi Klinger?
Ch.Y.: Willi Klinger and I had a three-month handover period which went very well. We travelled together to USA and Canada and also in many parts of Austria. Willi was very generous with his time and took great care to introduce me to many stakeholders and to explain the background of how we work with them. Like most wine countries, Austria’s is quite complex in terms of structures and regions so Willi particularly helped me untangle that. I wish Willi well in his new role as CEO of Wein and Co in Austria.
Our wines have the types of elegant styles that consumers are looking for: good quality and value, sustainably produced and matching very well with food and our people are very friendly.
DoC: Your predecessor had a great authority – but, probably, the world does not expect from you the same strategy, everyone, as it seems to us, expects something new. What do you think about this? Will your position in the development of wine marketing be absolutely identical to the position of the ex-Managing Director? If you are planning changes, what specific new steps would you like to take and when should they be expected?
Ch.Y.: Every person brings their own approach to a role, building on their own strengths. Willi did this and did it very well. My first task has been to build the team and we made a number of changes including as discussed increasing the size of our management team to give a clear focus:
We are rolling out those changes this year and planning for next year.
DoC: You have held the position of the Managing Director for several months. What measures for the development of Austrian wine have you worked out? What did you work on during this period?
Ch.Y.: We have built the team and launched the strategy to the industry. We are now working on a number of activities to support what I call our “Glass in Hand” strategy. What I mean by that is that we want to provide our wineries with more opportunities to show their wines to the world, as we are convinced that when trade and consumers try our wines and meet our people we can win. Why? Because our wines have the types of elegant styles that consumers are looking for: good quality and value, sustainably produced and matching very well with food and our people are very friendly.
DoC: What strategic markets are currently important to the Austrian Wine Marketing Board? How these issues going to be addressed?
Ch.Y.: Obviously the home market where we have 80% of our sales is important but as we have such a high market share the strategy is to defend and support the premium segments. Our only way to grow will be in international markets. Germany and Switzerland are logical due to language, but then we have USA, Benelux, Monopoly markets in UK, Central and Eastern Europe and parts of Asia. We target markets and market segments that are premium and understand the price/quality that we offer.
DoC: What global international exhibitions do you plan to take part in? Perhaps you will enter new markets, new local exhibitions?
Ch.Y.: We are big fans of Prowein Düsseldorf and Shanghai and Vinexpo Hong Kong and now Paris. We are also evaluating their other shows. Obviously the current situation is very difficult for exhibition companies and there will probably be a shake out of cities and locations. We also take part in smaller more targeted events, ie for organic or biodynamic wines and always look for new events that match our target consumers and trade.
Our only way to grow will be in international markets. Germany and Switzerland are logical due to language, but then we have USA, Benelux, Monopoly markets in UK, Central and Eastern Europe and parts of Asia.
DoC: Has coronavirus made major changes to your plans? How did your company adapt to processes under the global quarantine? How do you feel about online resources for placing image ads of Austrian wines?
Ch.Y.: Yes, corona virus is the number one topic as with all other companies and wine countries! We have quickly refocused our activities and are launching an on-line campaign in Austria targeting sales of wine in supermarkets, online and from wineries. We are looking to expand this to other countries.
Secondly we are focusing on plans for after Corona and are actively planning a number of events when our wineries can travel again, particularly supporting the restaurants around the world but also our wineries’ cellar doors, as well as wine tourism
DoC: How do you feel about such a safe, and therefore urgent method, like presenting Austrian wines online and after put this presentation on digital channels? Let’s say our Communication media group has such resources and an extensive experience of disseminating such information among buyers and distributors from different countries.
Ch.Y.: We are always open for urgent ideas. And since on this stage, such a concept is less dangerous – this is certainly an option for consideration.
DoC: What interesting wine events from Austrian Wine Marketing Board await wine lovers as well as wine professionals in the near future?
Ch.Y.: Very many! We plan to do Austrian tastings in Moscow, St Petersburg and Toronto and other events in Chicago, Basel, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stuttgart. as well as a number of other activities in the second half of the year. A lot is on hold at the moment but once things clear up there will be a number of exciting activities we can let you know about!