Cheers to Success

How Brian Athaide has prepped Canadian wine producer Andrew Peller for long-term success by focusing on continual learning and development

Brian Athaide is the CFO & EVP of HR & IT at Andrew Peller. Photo by Jonathan Bielaski.

From Canada to Russia, the Balkans to the Philippines, the United States to South America and back again, Brian Athaide’s career has taken him around the world—providing him with a global understanding of finance and risk management, as well as developed and emerging markets. But after twenty-five years of working in different countries and various roles at Procter & Gamble, Athaide decided to move his family back home to Canada in August 2014.

It was then that Canada’s leading producer of high-quality wines, Andrew Peller Limited, extended Athaide with an invitation to fill a unique and interesting job—one which was a combination of chief financial officer and executive vice president of human resources and information technology.

When he joined the organization that December, Athaide dove headfirst into his new environment to learn more about the industry and the organizational culture at Andrew Peller. In his first week of employment, he met with sales and marketing teams to better understand the customer base and brand strategy. He spent time with people across the entire organization and asked them to help build his work plan. He invested time learning the company’s strategy so he could determine where it should focus. “Strategy is all about making choices, and we had to become very clear about what our choices were,” he says. “Where did we want to play, and how did we want to win?”

Athaide’s mission was to determine what Andrew Peller should do to keep growing and how to best play to its strengths. He quickly realized that a crucial place to start was the business’s Canadian roots. “It was clear that leveraging our core strengths in sales and marketing and expanding our domestic operations and distribution would be more profitable than trying to grow our international business,” Athaide recalls. Another key area was expanding the company’s product offerings. While Andrew Peller maintained a strong table-wine operation and one of the most successful make-your-own wine businesses in the world, it was clear that the company needed to move beyond those successes to capture sustainable, long-term growth. Developing a Canadian spirits portfolio provided the perfect opportunity and, according to Athaide, added a third leg to its product stool.

“Ultimately, Andrew Peller’s goal is to become the biggest and most respected wine-centric, alcoholic beverage marketer and producer in Canada,” says Athaide. To do so, innovation, agility, and speed are essential.

As a relatively small company compared to many of its international competitors, Andrew Peller needed to focus on its ability to quickly and effectively adapt to trends, so Athaide and the leadership team at Andrew Peller created a list of how-to-win strategies: drive megabrands, win with key customers, drive margins, develop a supply chain with a competitive advantage, increase focus on government relations, and—most importantly—unleash the full potential of the organization by using the talent at Andrew Peller better.

Between retail stores, wineries, and seasonal workers, Andrew Peller employs 1,350 people across Canada. These employees are what Athaide considers to be the company’s greatest asset, and he prioritizes maintaining a low turnover rate. “People love working here,” says Athaide. “But we always have opportunities to improve.” To identify those opportunities, Athaide and his HR team conducted Andrew Peller’s first employee engagement survey, and while the overall response was well ahead of industry norms, a few aspects rose to the surface.

“Andrew Peller’s goal is to become the biggest and most respected wine-centric, alcoholic beverage marketer and producer in Canada.”

Improving communication was one, so the executive team launched a quarterly employee newsletter to keep everyone up-to-date on changes, plans, and news from across the company. This sharing of information has empowered the staff and clarified the company’s goals and strategies in a way that guides teams as they make decisions.

Currently, as part of Andrew Peller’s new corporate strategy to “unleash the full potential of the organization,” Athaide’s human resources team is revamping the company’s talent development process. Making performance reviews simpler and more actionable was the first step, followed by plans to introduce an improved training program. “We are also looking at succession in a much more structured way,” Athaide says. “We’re identifying top talent earlier, developing success skills, and lining up key roles for the future.”

When Athaide came into his role at Andrew Peller, he knew there would be no shortage of new opportunities to push the organization, its processes, and its results to the next level. Fortunately, the team at Andrew Peller is not resistant to that kind of change, and thanks to Athaide’s intentional investment in understanding Andrew Peller and its staff, his new plans and ideas have been welcomed and met with credibility.

As a coach and mentor, Athaide delegates responsibility and empowers staff to make decisions, which he says is imperative to his ability to stay focused on the big picture, as he oversees four distinct teams within the company. But as he steps back far enough to see where he can add the most value when wearing his different finance, HR, and IT hats, he is also able to determine areas of tremendous synergy between projects and departments—synergy not entirely unlike working with new business in diverse parts of the world. It’s that broad, collaborative perspective that allows Athaide and his team to continually learn and develop, to execute creative strategies, and to drive growth in an industry with a bright future and a company whose best is yet to come.