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Nick Pringle: Cricketing Coo for Sula

Posted: Tuesday, 11 July 2017 12:22

 

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Nick Pringle : Cricketing Coo for Sula

July 11: The appointment of Nick Pringle as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) reported last month first in delWine might have been a surprise for many but the process had been fermenting for quite some time, writes Subhash Arora who had an exclusive chat with him over breakfast last Wednesday at Hotel Le Meridian where he shared his vision on how he planned to use his years of experience in the wine and alcobev industry to help move Sula forward

Click For Large ViewGetting a person of the stature of Nick Pringle with 23 years of relevant international experience to head Sula’s Operations is akin to getting a foreign coach to train the Indian cricket team with several senior domestic experts and commentators around. Except that it is not cricket-Nick’s favourite sport- and he is not the coach. He has been appointed to oversee the total operations of Sula and though he would be reporting directly to Rajeev Samant, the founder CEO of Sula, he will be responsible to take the company forward. ‘I will be taking the company forward with Rajeev vey much aiding, coaching and guiding me through the initial period,’ he says.

Cricket has been the love of Nick’s life. But he fitted as easily in the shoes of alcobev industry with which he has been associated fin different marketing activities , the latest stint being as the Commercial Director for Accolades; looking after Caribbean, Central and South America, Africa and Southern Europe, developing markets for Australian wines and then heading their China operations from Hong Kong.

From Somerset to Sula

‘From playing cricket for Somerset county in Steve Waugh'e era to Sula-must be quite an interesting change’, I tell Nick whom I met first 3 years ago in Delhi when we jointly conducted a wine appreciation evening with Hardys wines from Accolades, Australia at the Delhi Golf Club. ‘Yes, I loved playing with the likes of Ian Botham, Steve Waugh and Martin Crowe. I started working with alcobev companies after retiring from cricket, working for AB InBev and later Accolade Wines (which was then a part of Constellation Brands). I believe there are many opportunities in the Indian wine industry since it is a very young and dynamic market. It has immense potential to grow in the wine sector.’

Nick’s Vision

‘It is too early for me to comment on my vision; I haven’t even scratched the surface yet; I took charge only on June 4. But my immediate focus is on commercial, sales and distribution. We have to increase our sales, meet our distributors understand our customers better and service them better.’ 'But my vision is to take Sula to new levels buidling on the successful pioneering platform of over 15 years,' he adds.

What was your first impression when you came in contact with the Indian business world, I ask? ‘Bombardment of legislation and bureaucratic procedures,’ was his instant response. ‘Seriously speaking, there are many problems in doing business in India. But there are problems everywhere today and in every business. If there is a new challenge, we need to huddle and make our new strategy and move on.  So we have problems in dealing with 33 States as 33 countries out of which - we are already present in 30. How is that different from the USA with similar system? India is a very dynamic place. I also know that it is challenging to maintain 20% growth when you are selling nearly one million cases a year.’

 When I remind him that during the last 2 years Sula hadn’t been able to cross the million-case mark, he said the business had slowed down for various reasons (everyone has suffered the demonetisation and the 500m highway restriction) but this year will certainly see Sula reach the mark,’ adding ‘but we have improved the sales values by selling more of premium wines.’

Wine to not- only- Wine

Click For Large ViewSula has been a very enviable wine company, one of the pioneers but it has been changing the track a bit for the last few years as has been visible at the recent editions of SulaFest. Besides working with Remy Martin and their non champagne products, and Asahi beer, it had earlier introduced Janus grape brandy and has now introduced Eclipse whiskey. So does it make Sula an alcobev company, I ask and wonder how it can spearhead the cause of wine. ‘Look, we are doing only what the market demands but we are still staying as much with grapes as possible. The Eclipse whiskey uses our own grapes, besides grains. Janus brandy is also made from grapes. Having said that, our core business is wine and will always remain wine and we shall always be rooting for wine, ’he says.

Eclipse Launch

Nick was in Delhi with Team Sula that included Deepak Bhatnagar, Director Sales and Marketing and Cecilia Oldne, V.P. Marketing and Global Brand Ambassador, to launch their whiskey Eclipse at Farzi Cafe, in Connaught Place. ‘Eclipse s been currently available in Goa. Made from our own grapes, and grain, it is an Indian whiskey with nice packaging- We wil have our own little niche under Artisan Spirits- our wholly owned subsidiary. It will be available between Rs. 1200 and 1600 depending on the city of sale (it may be pertinent to remind out readers that GST does not apply to wine and liquor in India and hence the wide spectrum of sales prices of over 33% in different States). Launched in Delhi on July 7, it will compete with the likes of 100 Pipers, Teachers etc. It’s also available now in Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana Pondicherry, Daman and Silvassa.’

Focus

‘Obviously, I am looking at all the operations- and currently getting a good feel of it during the last month that I have been on the job. My immediate priority is commercials, sales and marketing of the company products. We need a good distribution plan driving sales to new level; our portfolio would be evolving of course. We are in the alcobev business and need to be in tune with the consumer. Duty Free is a big and important market and we shall be looking at it carefully. Similarly big hotels and eateries are an important segment. We do have a competitive edge as we are present already in 30 of the 33 States and Union Territories. It is tough but not impossible or else I won’t have come here,’ says Nick who says at the moment he has a 5- year horizon for his stint in India.

‘Exports will see more focus. There are eateries in UK, in S. Africa that can do well with premium Indian wines. I would hope to see Sula on their tables. But you can spend a lot of energy and money in air travels and visits, so we have to be a little careful. Of course, my experience in those markets should come in handy to capture new markets and expand the existing ones,’ he asserts.

He also affirms that working with Hardys for many years has given him the opportunity to expand the sales of Hardys, though he feels Accolades is in a bit of a trouble right now due to Brexit as its UK operations are undergoing a rough patch right now because they bottle the wines in UK and their wines have become very expensive.

Click For Large ViewNick has already been to India for perhaps 10 times but his wife who lives with him in Juhu since last month, visited India first time only in May this year when they went house hunting.  His step son has been living with them but another son still lives in London. Was it easy to convince his wife to shift residence in a strange country for the first time? ‘My wife’s mother is from Sri Lanka so there was some commonality. But I convinced her that if Colombo was in first gear, Mumbai was already in 8th gear and turbo charged!’

Nick is totally fascinated by Mumbai and finds it a very vibrant city. “I told my wife that Mumbai shakes you up enough so you might fall down. But when you get up you either love it or hate it. I love Spain and now I equally love India-which is a very diverse and fascinating country. I love the people of India- you get positive energy from them,’ he says.

It is interesting that his wife never moved to Hong Kong when he lived there working for Accolade and looking after Chinese market. But she decided to move to India with him from day one.

Having been a cricketer and a sportsman, Nick is in a fighting fit shape.  That he is a fitness freak shows at the breakfast table where he has Muesli and a glass of juice and a coffee and makes me feel that the masala dosa that follows my cereals, is gluttony.  

Since this was Nick’s first visit to Delhi after taking over as COO, a mini conference had been organised at Le Meridian where he was ready to meet the team Sula from North India. The staff was ready and restless for the meeting, a clue for me to say goodbye.`

For earlier related Articles, visit

Wine India Moves: Sula appoints Nick Pringle from UK as COO

Passing By: Nick Pringle of Hardys

Subhash Arora

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