“We have an expression that unless you have dirt under your fingernails, you’ll never know how to grow a vine,” says James Millton from his eponymous Gisborne vineyard.
But after time overseas, Kirsty, Anna and Matt all returned to Marlborough to take up roles in the business. “We really have had to pinch ourselves they are back here and it’s working so well,” says Ivan.
Having all three involved has made succession planning easier, but the senior Sutherlands thought it through thoroughly, thanks partly to lesson learned when Ivan worked as a rural valuer and farm management consultant. “My advice to others would be, ‘don’t hesitate to seek outside advice’,” he says. “It’s also important to respect and treat your children as equals and not try to identify an heir apparent. You’ve got to be fair, but also the children have to have the desire and be enthusiastic about the business.”
Ivan and Margaret regard themselves as fortunate to have built a brand and business that can support the entire family, as well as the other valued staff. Both view it as a passing of leadership roles to others who understand the business and can continue it. “It’s important to have a holistic approach and a thorough understanding of the culture of the business – particularly the organic side of it,” says Ivan. “We are lucky that the children grew up knowing and understanding it.”
Their global experience in other jobs was invaluable, says Ivan. Anna studied chemistry and chemical engineering before working in project management in London, then returned to Marlborough, undertaking the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology viticulture course. Kirsty has an industrial design degree and has been part of the company since its inception, developing the Dog Point label while working for Fisher & Paykel. Matt gained viticulture and oenology and commerce degrees from Lincoln University, followed by seven years of domestic and international marketing experience.
When James Healy – who was involved with the Dog Point label from the early days – reduced his time input and moved to Nelson (see facing page) it was timely for the children to take over senior management roles, says Ivan. “I’ve always regarded the wine industry as having well defined job architecture and being an innovative and creative industry, which suits the next generation.”
Keeping business and personal lives separate is key and the Sutherlands are strict about having regular board, staff and management meetings so they don’t need to bring business up at home. The younger generation bring vitality and a fresh approach and Ivan says his children are doing a fantastic job in the driving seat, allowing him and Margaret to become passengers. “We’ve worked long and hard at developing the business and there is no substitute for hard work – we weren’t scared of it and neither are our children,” he says. “Part of succession planning is allowing them to take on the responsibility and make the decisions while we stay in the background.