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Wine Society CEO leaves

The Wine Society’s chief executive Oliver Johnson is leaving after seven years.

Johnson took over ‘a very stable business but one that I felt could be pushed forward’ in 2004, he told Decanter.com, and he oversaw substantial growth during his tenure.

The Wine Society – founded in 1874 and the world’s oldest cooperative wine club – grew from 80,000 members to 110,000 over the last seven years.

Turnover also grew by 50%, Johnson said, while the number of orders coming through the website had grown to be ‘a very substantial number’ – the Society did not give out precise figures, he said.

‘We have made the business stronger – in facilities, in member satisfaction, in the balance sheet, in sales. It’s a great company, it’s very successful, and members are happier than ever. We’ve seen good growth. Financially we’re in great shape.’

Johnson said he was particularly proud of a survey in May this year by consumer watchdog Which?, in which The Wine Society was awarded 86 points out of100, compared to Waitrose’s 64, for overall service.

‘For us to beat a company like Waitrose by so much– that’s a high for me to leave on,’ he said.

Another major development was the new £5.5m temperature-controlled storage facility at the Society’s Stevenage headquarters, completed in 2009 and ‘the biggest investment ever’ by the company.

As to why he was leaving, Johnson, 56, said it was simply a matter of ‘feeling restless’.

‘I’ve been here seven years, which is a good deal longer than most chief execs, and I feel a bit restless – ready to move on to a new challenge.’

Johnson will leave by the end of August. The Wine Society is in the process of appointing his successor, offering ‘a six-figure salary’.

  • Sebastian Payne MW, who joined the Wine Society in 1974 and became chief buyer in 1985, is changing his role this year.

From January next year Payne will take a support role in the buying team and will pass on the job of head buyer.

He told Decanter.com he had seen many changes over the years, not least in the size of the company – ‘turnover was £2m in 1974, £10m in 1985, and will be £80m this year.’

He added, ‘The changes have been in scope, size, sourcing, and speed of communication, but independence, integrity and a belief that wine should be delicious remain essential parts of The Wine Society genes.’

Written by Adam Lechmere

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