Saturday, 22 August 2009

A Tasteful Fable of Leading Change

Thanks to the leadership of Penfolds employee Max Schubert, Penfolds Grange survived for me and my wine-aficionado friends to taste the 20 year old 1989 vintage last week, along with seven other reputable 6-11 yr old South Australian reds.

Even though 1989 wasn’t an exceptional year for Grange, and this bottle had been cellared roughly, the wine had all the colour and fruit of its youth plus the richness and subtlety of advancing age. The younger (1998-99) worthy competitors in the line-up had, comparatively prematurely, lost their youthful qualities.

What do they do at Grange, I wonder, that gives their wine such outstanding, durable qualities?

Clearly there is more to it than a recipe; more than process control; more than operations management. There is a long established culture of leadership that survived the machinations of Management.

Grange was born of the vision, passion, skill, and persistence of an employee of Penfolds wines: winemaker Max Schubert. A bottle of his original vintage sold at auction in 2004 for just over A$50,000. However back in the 50’s, when Aussies thought wine was port or sherry, this powerful still wine was panned by the wine critics and in 1957 Penfolds management forbid Schubert from producing it.

But Schubert persisted in secret through 1959 and as the initial vintages aged, their true value came to be appreciated. In 1960 the management instructed Schubert to re-start production, oblivious to the fact that he had not missed a vintage.

Unlike most expensive Old World wines, which are from single vineyards or even blocks within vineyards, Grange is made from grapes harvested over a wide area. Yet despite the vagaries of grape sourcing and vintage variation due to growing conditions, there is arguably a consistent and recognisable "Penfolds Grange" style and quality.

The renowned Penfolds Grange brand is the result of Max Shubert’s passionate, visionary and persistent leadership as an employee.

This story brings to my mind Peter Senge’s comments in The Dance of Change (p. 15):

“In business today, the word “leader” has become synonymous for top manager. . . . Those who are not in top management positions . . . . . . don’t become leaders until they reach a senior management position of authority.”

Senge’s links this view of leadership to change-failure. He prefers to view leadership as:

“the capacity of a human community to shape its future, and specifically to sustain the significant processes of change required to do so.”

Max Shubert was clearly a leader in the Penfolds community.

Reference for history of Penfolds Grange: 22-08-2009

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