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Wine to 5: Erik McLaughlin, drinks industry M&A CEO

Inside a professional’s everyday life, Decanter speaks to Erik McLaughlin, a drinks industry mergers & acquisitions CEO.

Erik McLaughlin is the co-founder and CEO of Metis, a M&A advisory firm that facilitates winery sales, acquisitions, recapitalisations and growth strategies throughout Oregon and Washington in the US Pacific Northwest.

How did you get here?

I’ve worked in pretty much every aspect of the wine business. I’ve had the good fortune of working for two large publicly traded companies as well as several smaller ones. I even owned a wine shop and a group of wine-focused restaurants. My wife and I chose to raise our family in Walla Walla, a small wine community that we love. I joined up with Casey and Vicky McClellan, the founders of Seven Hills Winery (one of Washington’s pioneer brands) to help them build their business with the aim of selling it so they could retire. Once the sale was announced my phone blew up from friends in the business asking, ‘how did you do that, and can you help me do the same?’ – I’ve been doing just that ever since.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Most winery founders have invested their passion, the prime years of their lives, and most of their net worth into building their business. They’re all-in. Helping folks who have risked everything to build a great winery find a path to a much-deserved retirement is what I love most about my job.

And the worst?

Not being able to help everyone. In addition to transactional work, we provide strategic planning and financial modelling to business owners. Transactions aren’t a viable option for everyone who comes to us, and our consulting services sometimes aren’t enough. Telling people we can’t help them is the worst.

What’s the most common misconception about your job?

That we are only interested in selling wineries. There are a variety of capital and strategic solutions for wine businesses. We help people understand a broad spectrum of options; outright sale is simply the most visible of them.

Your greatest moment, professionally?

The only recognition I keep on the wall is being named one of the world’s Top 50 Wine Leaders by Wine Business Monthly (2019). The most gratifying things have been the occasions when someone who has been opposite of us in a transaction subsequently hires us to work on their side of their next transaction.

And your greatest mistake?

Speaking badly about someone. Early in my career I worked for someone who I lost respect for over their poor ethical and financial behaviour. I didn’t speak well of them after leaving my job. Everyone knew that person was the problem, but speaking poorly of them made me look bad, too. It gained nothing and I feel remorse for it to this day.

Why are people investing in the Pacific Northwest?

A lot of investment is coming from wineries in California and Europe looking for growth and diversification. Climate change is also driving investment, with comparatively more moderate climates and sustainable water supply. And price – Oregon and Washington are now producing wines that rival the best in the world and yet the cost to acquire and develop land, vineyards and wineries here is a fraction of the other top regions of the world.

What makes a winery an attractive buy?

Profitability. People focus on scores and prestige, but those are tools to help achieve profitability. If a winery makes great wine and then can build a great business around it, they will have a winery someone wants to buy.

What skills are needed for a career in M&A?

Trustworthiness. Trust is everything in our business. Additionally, one must be a good listener, a creative problem solver, and have a competitive spirit.

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