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How they learned to lead: John Andrew Brown

How they learned to lead: John Andrew Brown

When John Andrew Brown took over as CIO at Brown Brothers Milawa Vineyard in 1997, the goal was to move the vineyard's supply chain onto a more flexible platform to ensure excellent customer service, offer back-office functionality and communicate with existing and future systems

A successful vineyard owner must have the skills to harvest the best grapes, employ the most talented winemakers and sell customers on the product. When John Andrew Brown took over as CIO at Brown Brothers Milawa Vineyard Pty. in 1997, one of his first tasks drew on similar skills. The Australian company, founded in 1889 in Milawa, Victoria, had outgrown its legacy enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which had been designed specifically for the wine industry.

The goal was to move the vineyard's supply chain onto a more flexible platform to ensure excellent customer service, offer back-office functionality and communicate with existing and future systems, says Brown, who is a fourth-generation employee of the family-owned business.

His first challenge was to select an implementation team made up of key people from various departments, including IT, marketing, operations and finance.

The next challenge unfolded over the ensuing six months, as Brown's team presented its plans to all of the knowledge workers in the company, explaining that implementing a new ERP system was a business decision and not just an IT decision.

"We said that although we didn't know what the new system would look like, things were going to change, and we asked them to come along for the ride. We had a pretty good acceptance rate," says Brown, who headed up the leadership team. Brown and his team explained that the winemaker had to get rid of the risk and stagnation inherent in its legacy ERP system and invest in one that would allow the vineyard to become much more efficient.

After conducting a lot of research, Brown Brothers chose Denver-based J.D. Edwards & Co.'s OneWorld ERP package, running on an IBM Netfinity server. Implementation of the new system began early in 1999, and the financial component went live in July 1999. The distribution model was implemented that October.

The new system allowed the winemaker to cut the time it took to process credit card orders by 80 percent, improved collections and consolidated budget information. The project also put Brown's management abilities to the test. Along the way, Brown says, he learned that leadership means providing the right framework for your people to do great things.

"I believe that a significant part of the leadership role is simply to get the environment right so my people can do what they do," he says. "However, when a leader makes a decision, it must be respected and adopted by all, regardless of their opinions, because that is part of the leader's role in the team."

Brown's boss, general manager Roland Wahlquist, says he has proved to be a very effective CIO for the vineyard, guiding it through a complete upgrade of its IT systems in just five years.

"He and his team have been very successful at striking the right balance between affordable systems and laying the foundations for growth with a long-term solution," Wahlquist says. "He has been able to clearly articulate to senior management his proposed solutions and gain their support."

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