Talking Change

Stéphane Courgeon, journalist: "Hello! And welcome to a one-hundred-year-old company. We're here in the heart of the Gers where it all began for the Tariquet Domain in 1912. Tariquet is the biggest family-owned vineyard in France, and it is still being passed down through the generations. And in 2007 it was passed down with an opening capital. This was a game-changing moment which completely revolutionized the company, but without, affecting its ethos, history or roots. In a moment I'll be meeting Rémy Grassa who is now running the company with his brother Armin, and he'll be telling us what this change meant for him, and the consequences it has had. Hello Rémy."

At the Tariquet Estate

Rémy Grassa, Managing Director: "Hello".

SC: "Thank you for inviting us here to your estate in the Gers. Just how many bottles are produced on your estate every year?".

RG: "About 9.5 million bottles - of wine and bas armagnac - every year".

SC: "Nine and a half million; that's a huge number of bottles. And do most of them stay in France?".

RG: "About 55% of our output is for the domestic market, and 45% is exported to around sixty different countries".

SC: "And the armagnac? We should mention that, too".

RG: "Two thirds of our armagnac is for export".

SC: "Two thirds for export!".

RG: "Yes".

SC: "How could a company which had fiercely guarded its independence for the last 95 years suddenly decide to open its capital in 2007?".

RG: "2007 was a big turning point. The business was being handed down from the fourth to the fifth generation, namely to my brother Armin and myself, and at this time we had a pretty ambitious investment plan - to simultaneously modernize and further develop the Estate".

SC: "When you say investment plan, what sort of investments do you mean?".

RG: "We'd been thinking about acquiring some vineyards, rolling out a new bottling line, and expanding the winery".

SC: "Right! So an enormous investment of around how much?".

RG: "Roughly speaking, the equivalent of our turnover in five years - which amounts to a little over 30 million euros".

SC: "What was your number one requirement when choosing a family co-partner?".

RG: "Cultivating a long-term partnership was the first factor in our choice. Owner-growers, you see, plant their vines with an eye to 35 years down the line. We're thinking about transmission from one generation to the next. We have more than 25 years of armagnac in stock, and our vision is essentially long-term and sustainable. So, our decision of choice is underpinned by long-term vision, and very often we worry about financial considerations with shorter-term returns, you see. The second key point is our relationship with contacts. Engaging in dialogue which is not fluent or natural, or not having one's heart involved in managing 'phone calls in innovative and imaginative ways is an extra load to bear. We raised these two points with Crédit Mutuel Equity and our choice of co-partner was informed by these points".

Change

SC: "Have there been any far-reaching changes which you could never have imagined at the start?".

RG: "Yes! Mainly operations in corporate governance, as we've created a management committee that may reach beyond the company itself. We got some of the company's key executives to think about their practices, and how they interact with others; and how they communicate inside the family. We did this because we had always been used to making our announcements after the event. Now we do a lot more thinking ahead, we thrash out our ideas and formalize them. So we're really looking into issues much more thoroughly now than we did in the past".

SC: "And Rémy, I wanted to ask you what personal changes did you have to make, for example, how did your approach differ in order to accommodate this shift in mindset?".

RG: "What I did have to do was to learn to communicate better; as a land-owning family-run business of wine-growers, we were always results-driven, focusing on business processes, but the communication element, thinking ahead and actually articulating what we are going to do was, for us, a seismic shift in our thinking".

SC: "What this co-partner has in fact done is to get you to engage with a world - or worlds - completely different to your own. Can you give us some examples?".

RG: "We were very focused on wine growing and wine making, so we didn't really have much opportunity to talk to other operators who could be in production or indeed in a more soft-skills kind of environment like human resources. Identifying and pondering issues in other professional lines is a really satisfying experience when you look at them alongside our own unique features".

Any Advice?

SC: "What advice would you give to a family-run business like yours - or to a SME, for example -, wishing to open up to an external financial sponsor?"

RG: "The main piece of advice is to be completely transparent about the business venture, to believe in it, and be totally committed to it. The second piece of advice would be to create a positive environment with contacts, and to work constructively with them".

SC: "Would you do the same thing today that you did twelve years ago?".

RG: "We have a good working relationship, so, yes, if we had to make the choice again today, we would".

SC: "Thank you very much Rémy".

RG: "My pleasure!"