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Beringer Blass Announces Management Changes in North America

Jim Watkins, president of the American division, is leaving the company, and Dan Leese replaces him as managing director.

Dana Nigro
Posted: January 12, 2004

Beringer Blass Wine Estates, the wine giant owned by the Foster's Group of Australia, announced a series of upper-level management changes today.

Beringer Blass managing director Walt Klenz said Jim Watkins, president of the Americas, will be leaving the company. Klenz explained that Watkins' position has been eliminated and consolidated with that of the COO, trade Americas, which was held by Dan Leese. Leese now takes on the newly created role of managing director, trade Americas, effectively immediately.

"We felt that with the challenging market conditions, we had to look at getting closer to the market and flattening the organization out," Klenz said. He said he wanted the management to be in closer contact with departments such as production, marketing and sales, as well as closer to customers and suppliers.

Leese has spent 25 years in the alcoholic beverage industry. He had been managing director of Brown-Forman's U.S. wine business, prior to joining Beringer Blass in 2001 as general manager of the premium wine division. He was promoted to COO in January 2003.

Watkins joined Beringer as executive vice president and COO in 1999. The California company was purchased by Foster's in 2000 and merged with Mildara Blass Wines. The following year, Watkins was promoted to president of the Americas, with responsibility for the United States and Canada, along with oversight of the company's Chilean operations. Prior to entering the wine industry, Watkins had been a senior vice president at Burger King Corp.

"He has done a lot of great things for the company," Klenz said. "He was very useful and valuable in the ownership transition from an independent company to becoming a division of Foster's."

Leese will be reporting to Jamie Odell, who has been appointed to the newly created position of COO, global trade. Odell, who had been Beringer Blass' managing director of trade for the Asia Pacific region, will assume management responsibility for wine operations in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific. He reports directly to Klenz.

Beringer Blass owns wine brands in Australia and California such as Beringer, Chateau St. Jean, Etude, Greg Norman, Meridian, Stags' Leap and Wolf Blass. The company also owns wineries in Italy, including Castello di Gabbiano, and New Zealand's Matua Valley Wines.

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