Careers that breed passion
There are a multitude of roles and career paths in the drinks industry but the idea of moving into the sector for the first time, or shifting across or upwards into a new role, might seem challenging, particularly in an industry that promotes and thrives on well-established relationships.
This month the Wine & Spirit Education Trust spoke to experts from different parts of the industry to gather insights into the variety of roles and opportunities available. The careerfocused webinar attracted more than 200 viewers from all over the world.
Magnavai Janjo kicked off the session by explaining his role as a wine educator, which he balances with running wine importer MJ Wine Cellars.
He said: “I started working in this industry via a shop floor role in Waitrose. Those hard, long hours were worth it in the end.”
Jack Merrylees, Majestic Wine’s head of communications and PR, had a similar start to his wine industry career, having first taken on a role nine years ago as a van driver for the company in Swindon after university, and then “coming up through the ranks” to a head office role, which he has held for the past five years.
Merrylees graduated with a degree in medieval archaeology and initially expected to work for Majestic for a year or so, but he discovered a passion for wine, which kickstarted his career in the industry.
Brad Madigan, managing director, of Campari Group UK, also has an unrelated degree – in sports science] – and he credited his 16-year career in the spirits industry to “a couple of sliding door moments”.
He said: “I worked for Unilever as an ice cream sales representative and my boss went to work for Diageo in Australia. I had the opportunity to follow him, so I did, and then stayed in spirits for 16 years, with roles in Sydney, Melbourne and now in London. I am a big one for taking opportunities when they are in front of you.”
Janjo said having a passion for the industry is important. He also highlighted communication skills, which he said are “absolutely fundamental, no matter what part of the industry you are in and whether you are dealing with suppliers, consumers or other customers”.
Elizabeth O’Kelly, a drinks industry recruiter and partner at Vinokelly Search, agreed.
She said: “Talking to people is how I spend my days. It is all about connecting with people.”
O’Kelly said the nature of how people connect now is much more sustainable than it used to be and virtual tastings and meetings are at the root. “It has been so interesting to see how the digital world has flourished and developed over the past 12 months.
Before Covid most wine businesses thought they didn’t really need digital communication, especially if they didn’t have direct-to-consumer (D2C) revenue streams. I now know of big companies who spent the last year building their D2C revenue streams. I think digital marketing in wine will be one of the key roles of the future.
“Spirits marketing is a different beast. Those marketing tools existed quite well in spirits before this, much more so than in wine, which was much more events led. If you want to add to your skill set it should be with digital, even if you are already in marketing – it will not go to waste.”
Another bit of positivity from the past year has been a greater acceptance of flexible working, according to Merrylees.
He said: “I used to be five days in the office but now I am in two days tops. “The advent of Zoom and being able to connect more easily has created more community. We used to get our store teams together twice a year. They would come from all over country and to one location but now we are able to do monthly updates for our managers instead. Everyone in the office is seeing the same information as the people in stores and the commercial trade teams, and that is quite amazing.
“Wine tastings online are also bit of a blessing, although we still have a lot to learn. It is continuing to evolve, and I think we will get more and more interactive.
“But it has been one of the big developments for us. We used to have bespoke tastings with 10 to 70 people there at a time. Now we do them for people in their own homes and we can take more time to interact. You don’t have to worry about taxis, you can relax more, and we can include things like quizzes to make it more fun.”
In addition, store staff can be connected more easily with suppliers, he said. In the past a supplier might visit once every five years and only visit a couple of stores.
He added: “Now every Wednesday we have different suppliers across the globe on Zoom and 150 store managers can taste and ask questions and that is such a big difference and such a big connection in selling the product.”
While some jobs in drinks may not command the salaries of other industries, the panel highlighted a number of perks.
Janjo said the opportunity to travel is one of the plus-points of the wine industry. Merryless pointed to education. During his time with Majestic he has completed Wine & Spirit Education Trust wine Levels 3 and 4 and is now enrolled on the MW programme.
He added: “Wine is such a big topic that you can follow your own path of interest. Mine is the history of wine because I like that. You can find areas to connect with that make it more than a profession.”
Madigan said that at Campari there are team events and incentives, and a lot of ways staff receive recognition as they progress with the company.
He said: “We also learn a lot about our competitors, so if we are about to launch a product, we have to sample drinks and learn everything about the competition and the category, which is a lot of fun.
“What we take home [in terms of salary] is important but there are lots of other garnishes, as we call them, along the way.”
Madigan’s tips for building a career in drinks is to have an openness to learn, and to look carefully at any transferrable skills if moving into a new area.
“We can teach someone about spirits but it is about that ability to learn, which can be more important than industry experience.”
O’Kelly said the industry is also very good for women.
She said: “I have worked in recruiting in city and commodities trading and those are dominated by men and can feel quite closed to women, but I have found the drinks industry, in contrast, is welcoming, especially on the sales and marketing side, where it is more likely you can work from home.
“There are challenges with children, specially with travel, but there are plenty of parts of the industry you can go into and flexible working is there. “Some incredible brands have often come from women in these industries.”