Treasury Wine Estates chief executive Michael Clarke to step down

Shares in Penfolds and Wolf Blass owner Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) plunged overnight after the company announced the departure of CEO Michael Clarke – credited with transforming its fortunes over the past five-and-a-half years.

TWE said Clarke, who has run the world’s biggest wine-only business since 2014, had announced that he would leave his post as managing director and CEO in the first quarter of the 2021 fiscal year, effectively giving one year’s notice of his departure. He plans to return to the UK to spend more time with his family.

Current chief operating officer (COO) Tim Ford will take over from Clarke, with the latter agreeing to act as an advisor to TWE for up to one year more, providing what the company described as ‘strategic support across key initiatives, including potential merger and acquisition opportunities’.

However, news of Clarke’s departure sent TWE shares plummeting by almost 13% in early trading on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX); Clarke’s tenure saw the value of TWE stock rise fivefold, with earnings up almost tenfold.

The company reported record profits in August this year, thanks in great part to dynamic sales of premium wines in China, which has become the company’s biggest market under Clarke’s leadership.

‘It is without question [that] the extraordinary transformation and outstanding financial returns that TWE has achieved have been driven by Michael’s leadership over the past five-and-a-half years,’ said TWE chairman Paul Rayner.

‘The structural changes and initiatives delivered by Michael and his team have established TWE as a significantly stronger business than when he first joined the company.’

New CEO Ford has been with TWE since 2011, including the role of deputy COO in charge of the Asia, Europe and ANZ regions prior to becoming full company COO in January this year.

Rayner said of Ford: ‘His depth and breadth of experience within our business is therefore well proven. I am confident he is a strong leader to take TWE into its next exciting phase.’