Get to know Wagner Family of Wine’s Rik de Lange, winner of a North Bay Business Journal CFO award.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE ESSENTIAL ROLE OF A FINANCIAL LEADER IN THE CURRENT ENVIRONMENT?
It may not always look like it from the outside, but the wine business is actually very fast and dynamic. The financial leader needs to be in tune with this fast pace of change and be ready for quick decision making and responding to opportunities. He or she needs to keep removing complexities and run an engaged team that provides information quickly, clearly and, very importantly, with confidence.
To me, this means that you have to build a team and processes where 90% of the needed information is available before it is requested. Answering this 90 percent should be the result of a tailored processing and reporting rhythm that takes very little time to complete.
The finance team and its processes should take care of most of the operational and tactical information needs without much or any help. This efficiency then allows the financial leader to focus on leadership, strategic needs and anticipating change.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHANGES YOU’VE SEEN IN YOUR INDUSTRY?
I’ve been working in the wine industry for about 12 years and have seen competition intensify in that time. There’s also been a growing understanding that the business has three distinct segments in which you have to compete, starting with value brands and then moving up to the middle tier and finally luxury wines. The heightened competition and awareness of what it takes to succeed in these segments means that you have to act even faster, with greater agility and responsiveness. You have to keep making improvements to what you do so that you get everything right, from your sourcing of grapes to your marketing to your profit margins.
My role as CFO in this complex set of dynamics is first of all to remove as much noise as possible from all the information that is coming through at such a high pace, so that we can focus on the things that really matter. I support the Wagner family by providing them with analysis and forecasts that clearly highlight the impact of key strategic choices and external factors to which business performance is most sensitive. Good examples are profitability by market and balancing our fruit supply between owned land, leased land and purchased grapes. One thing worth noting is that having your ducks in a row from a finance perspective enables you to act with the speed you need. Once you recognize and understand the business model, it is not as complex as people might think – it can be simplified quite a bit.
TELL US ABOUT THE PARTICULAR CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES YOUR ORGANIZATION HAS MET IN THE RECENT PAST.
The constraints of the Napa Valley form the most obvious challenges, with their impact on permit-ting, grape supply and cost. There are only so many grapes in the Valley, and the cost of land continues to go up. It’s my role to help us manage our risks and costs in an appropriate way. In Napa Valley, the threats can outweigh the opportunities. That is why we have looked elsewhere to produce much of our wine and even source our grapes.
Rik de Lange
Chief financial officer
Wagner Family of Wine
8700 Conn Creek Rd., Rutherford, CA 94573
Brands: Caymus, Conundrum, Mer Soleil, Emmolo and Red Schooner
Professional background: For the first 11 years, he worked for Enkco, a meat company in the Netherlands. He started as a production planner and eventually became vice president of finance. In 2005 he entered the wine industry at Treasury Wine Estates, first in Australia and since 2009 in Napa Valley. He been with Wagner Family of Wine since 2014.
Education: Master’s degree in business economics