Liquor boss Rory Glass reflects on 20 years with Lion

Rory Glass is toasting his last couple of months as managing director of Lion NZ after 10 years at the helm and nearly 20 years at the liquor firm.

He joined the company in his late 20s, but after steering the company through a period of acquisitions, and perhaps one of the most challenging years to date, Glass handed in his resignation in September.

Lion NZ has undergone a major restructure over the past 18 months and will move to a new global operating model in February, with the supply chain, analytics, digital, finance and people and culture divisions to be run from Australia.

Glass will finish up with the company at the end of February.

The company says it no longer requires a managing director and has appointed Craig Baldie, Lion’s commercial director, as its local country manager, common among multinationals.

Lion is ultimately owned by Japanese brewer Kirin Holdings.

Glass is Lion’s longest-serving team member after the late Sir Douglas Myers, and started working for the beer, cider, wine and liquor manufacturer after he was poached by the company when he was working within merchandise at Progressive (now Woolworths NZ).

His first role at Lion was national accounts director looking after the bottle market and grocery stores. From there he moved to national on-premise director, then into sales director, sales and marketing director and then on to managing director.

Glass has grown up in the company and says he was looking forward to life beyond Lion.

“I’ll definitely miss the people and the culture here because it is unique … but there’s also excitement of what’s to come.”

Glass told the Herald he had been thinking about stepping down for some time. He has not yet figured out what he wants to do next, but says he has no desire to be working for a large firm again or within the liquor industry.

“It’s coming up 10 years in this role and it’s a good opportunity to have a bit of a break, and I haven’t been out there in the marketplace looking,” Glass tells the Herald. He says the decision to step down was not influenced by the disruption caused by Covid or the shift to the new operating model.

Lion insists that its wider local leadership team will remain in New Zealand and has not been affected by the moves to the new model.

The shift to the new operating model would enable the global businesses to share resources while sales, marketing, innovation and customer communication operations would remain local, he says, adding that he had also been working on the architecture for the new model.

“The benefits [of the new operating model] is basically that we have these centres of excellence operating at a group level that the business can use. As a business, as it grows internationally, which is what we are doing, and in time as other markets grow you need this so you are not replicating a lot of [capabilities],” he says.

“It makes sense to house in one place and deploy across the markets.”

Glass says the craft beer market is now three times the size of what it was when he took over the reins of Lion in early 2011, and lighter alcohol options made up about 1 per cent of the total category.

The lighter options, low and no-alcohol and low-carb segment of the market is now the fastest-growing category in the beer market, making up 10 per cent of beer sales and growing at a rate of 35 per cent.

Thinking back to a decade ago, he says he never would have expected the number of craft beer players in the market to swell to 250-odd. Back then, there were just 30.

“A lot has changed in 10 years.”

Next year Lion will be focused on product innovation and new releases within the lighter, no alcohol and “better for you” categories. It also has its eyes on innovation in the seltzer market. Within three to five years, it is expected to grow to become the same size as the cider category, says Glass.

“The health and wellbeing mega-trend continues on and is still the biggest game in town, and some of the highlights out of 2020 came out of categories like the lighter options.”

To date this year, Lion’s on-premise sales are down about 30 per cent. On-premise sales make up the biggest portion of its sales value.

The company was forced to write off stock during the lockdown periods and the impact on the company financially had been significant, says Glass.

He expects local accounts to make a full recovery in 2022, although this was dependent on widespread roll-out of a vaccine and New Zealand’s borders reopening next year.

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