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Robert Fowles of Napa’s Opus One Winery wins CFO award

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Robert Fowles

Chief financial officer

Opus One Winery LLC

1144 Oakville Cross Road, Oakville 94562

707.948.2416

www.opusonewinery.com

Robert Fowles of Napa Valley’s Opus One Winery wins one of North Bay Business Journal’s 2017 North Bay CFO Awards.

Professional background: I’ve spent almost my entire career in consumer packaged goods and 30 years in the adult beverage industry. I’ve been the CFO of Opus One Winery for the past 11 years.

Prior to that, I was the CFO & Secretary of Spectrum Organic Products for 6 years, and prior to that 8 years as the vice president, finance & administration for Diageo’s domestic wine business.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Connecticut. I am also a CPA and CGMA (Certified Global Management Accountant)

What do you see as the essential role of a financial leader in the current environment?

To be the go-to person in the organization for problems that crop up, regardless of the functional area. I also try to act as the CEO’s right-hand person that he can confide in and ask for advice in any situation.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your industry?

The widespread acceptance of wine consumption as a healthy part of one’s daily diet. Also, the consolidation within the wholesale tier of the industry and the liberalization of the direct-to-consumer shipping rules in most states

Tell us about the particular challenges and opportunities your organization has met in the recent past.

Opus One is in the early stages of a large expansion project, which began with architectural development in 2014, followed by ground-breaking in Oct., 2016. It’s a 40,000 square foot addition, which is the first change to the footprint of the winery since its completion in 1991. Managing the myriad elements of that project, while operating the winery and receiving guests has been very challenging

What advice would you give to young emerging financial leaders?

The same advice I once got from an early mentor of mine: be sure to be approachable and make yourself visible to the organization. Get out of your office and find out what the sales, marketing and operations people are working on and help them solve problems or issues. Once they realize you can help, they’ll always come to you with problems before they get ugly. It’s hard to add value to the organization if you’re the last person to find out that some issue has exploded into a crisis.

What’s the best advice for weathering today’s economic environment?

Well, today’s economic environment in the wine business is stellar. Consumers are ever-more willing to spend freely on Napa Valley wines, and we’re in a low inflation and low interest rate environment. Be sure to foster an excellent relationship with your lenders while times are good, so that you’ve got the access to capital and the flexibility to weather the downturn that will inevitably come.

How do you think your business will change in the next five years?

In our case, we will be running our expanded winery and maximizing the return on the investment we’re making. We are also actively looking for additional highest-quality vineyard land in the Oakville AVA, and I hope we’ll find something within the next five years. I also think the availability of skilled vineyard labor will continue to tighten, which will push more wineries toward mechanical harvesting.

What is a decision you wish you hadn’t made? What did you learn from it?

Robert Fowles

Chief financial officer

Opus One Winery LLC

1144 Oakville Cross Road, Oakville 94562

707.948.2416

www.opusonewinery.com

I distinctly remember watching the first broadcast of the 60 Minutes piece, “The French Paradox” in 1991. I had just been promoted a month earlier to an executive role in the wine business at the time, and while the piece was interesting, I decided it was unlikely to have a big impact on the industry. You have to remember that in those days, very few consumers drank red wine compared to today. Boy was I ever wrong! Red wine sales took off, and have never stopped since. We should have immediately gone on a buying binge for vineyard land and executed additional long-term red grape contracts before everyone else was trying to do the same. What I learned from it is try to stay ahead of the curve and anticipate industry and demographic changes before your competitors do. But, that’s far easier said than done.

What is your most memorable business experience?

In my first executive role in the wine business, we were running a relatively unattractive business model, heavily focused on jug wines, with some fighting varietal wines and even fewer high-end Napa Valley wines in the portfolio. Shortly after moving into that role, a new CEO was brought in to “fix” the business. He took me under his wing and over a 4-year period in the early 1990s, we revamped the business, divesting the jug wine brands and winery, and purchasing the Glen Ellen brand (which at the time was one of the largest fighting varietal wines in the marketplace). It was an exciting time and we succeeded in repositioning the business from a jug wine focus to one in which fighting varietal wines and Napa Valley wines were the focus

What is your greatest business success?

I hope it’s the difference I’ve made here at Opus One. I was fortunate to join the company two years after a new CEO came in and the business was at an inflection point. The changes and growth of the business have been impressive. We’ve been certified as a Great Place to Work in the small and medium workplace category across America for the last two years by the Great Place to Work Institute and the health of the business is excellent. We are allowed to manage it with a long-term perspective and will turn it over to our successors in far better shape than it was in when we arrived.

What was your toughest business decision?

They’ve always been difficult personnel decisions, that are always tough to make. I try to keep in mind advice that I recently received from a mentor that you’re not being compassionate by delaying tough personnel decisions, because you’re preventing a person that doesn’t fit in your organization from finding his highest purpose.

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?

I was the lead actor in my high school senior class play, “Blithe Spirit”, a comedy by Noel Coward. I played Charles Condomine, a socialite and novelist.

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