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Lambert forced to resign as Southcorp head

Southcorp chief executive Keith Lambert has been asked to resign because he simply wasn't used to talking to the City, industry insiders say.

The bullish head of Rosemount took over as CEO of Southcorp – Australia’s biggest wine company – when the two merged two years ago. At the same time Rosemount winemaker Philip Shaw was given the job of overseeing global winemaking operations.

Now Lambert’s resignation has been ‘requested and received’ in a unanimous board decision. ‘The board of Southcorp today announced that it has requested and received the resignation of Keith Lambert…effective immediately,’ a statement said.

Observers say Lambert was just not used to running a multinational. He ran Rosemount with panache and enormous success, but he was not in tune with the corporate world and could not speak in the language of international markets.

One senior figure in the Australian wine industry told decanter.com he thought Lambert lost the confidence of the financial world, and caused jitters which ran through the whole Australian wine industry.

‘When Southcorp issued its profit warnings, then suspended trading in shares, the headlines suggested it was an industry problem not a Southcorp problem. And of course, when the biggest wine company in Australia says that, it becomes an industry problem.’

Southcorp spokeswoman Cath O’Grady said Lambert had been seen to do a brilliant job as head of Rosemount, and overseeing the merger, but the company now needed ‘someone with more global experience, who is used to running a major multinational.’

Another industry insider said, ‘Basically they need a corporate animal who can talk to the City.’

There was some speculation in the Australian press that the dismissal follows a falling out between Lambert and his father-in-law, Bob Oatley, whose family control 19.7% of the Southcorp board.

The friction was over ‘the company’s performance, strategy and the prominence given to the Rosemount label,’ the Sydney Morning Herald said.

Amongst Southcorp’s competitors there was sympathy for Lambert and little jubilation at the discomfiture of a major rival. A senior employee of BRL Hardy – at present deep in takeover negotiations with Constellation Brands – said such a situation was never positive.

‘It’s not good for the industry, and it’s not good for the image of Australia,’ he said.

Written by Adam Lechmere3 February 2003

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