"No one saw it coming," said Jose Fernandez, who heads Southcorp's United States office in Monterey, Calif.
Kemp, 56, has been with Southcorp for 29 years, first as an engineer in the company's packaging division, and later, prior to taking over the wine division, as head of the appliance branch. Brian Johnston, executive general manager of wine operations, was named as acting chief executive effective on Kemp's departure.
"Nothing in particular precipitated this decision," Kemp said by telephone from Sydney. "I've had seven and a half great years in Southcorp Wines. I felt it was time for me to be setting more of my agenda than you can when you're running a global company for a big corporation.
"I've got a motorbike that sits there rotting away in the garage," he added. "Maybe now I can take it out on the road once or twice."
Kemp said he expects to consult with medium-sized wineries looking to expand their markets beyond Australia. "I think I can provide some oversight and insight for some of the medium-size wineries that don't have the opportunity to see as much of the international scene as I have," he said.
But he does not plan to start his own winery. "I didn't start in the grass roots of the industry long enough ago to do that," he said. "I've been with one of the great wine companies of the world. I don't need to do that."
Kemp joins a growing trend, among high-level Australian executives of retiring before age 60 to pursue other careers. "If they want to be setting their own agenda, it's better to do that when you're 56 than when you're 65," Kemp said. "When you're in a big global company, you're pretty worn out by then."
For recent news on Southcorp:
For recent ratings of Southcorp's brands, check the Wine Search.