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Irishman to Run Fast-Growing UK Wine Business

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Irishman to Run Fast-Growing UK Wine Business

February 03
12:01 2014

A 29-year old Dubliner has been appointed managing director of Britain’s fastest-growing wine company.

Eamon FitzGerald has been named as managing director of Naked Wines UK, the online wine retailing group, which had sales of €73 million last year, an increase of 67 per cent on the previous year.

Naked Wines was founded by Rowan Gormley, who previously set up Virgin Money for Richard Branson, and he continues to run the overall group, which is now also focused on expanding into America and Australia.

FitzGerald, a former consultant with Accenture, began as a wine blogger before starting to work for a wine trade magazine. As managing director of Naked Wines UK, he will oversee 105 staff and 140,000 customers, after joining the company two years ago.

“The crazy thing about the wine industry is the two most important people – the customer and the winemaker – are the ones getting screwed,” FitzGerald says.

“We’ve used the power of the internet to bring them together, so that the customer invests in the winemaker, the winemaker makes the wines knowing the wine is already sold, so you land up with a better product that costs less.”

Naked Wines, he says, also allows its customers interact directly with small wine producers to give them feedback and attend wine-tastings.

Naked Wines sells its wines at a lower cost than most competitors by not spending money on sales trips, traditional marketing or expensive packaging, Fitzgerald says. “By removing the selling, you can actually achieve the quality at a supermarket price.”

Duty hikes
Based in Norwich, Naked Wines is expanding outside the UK, led by founder Rowan Gormley, but has no plans to go into the Republic of Ireland.

“We don’t ship to the Republic at the moment – we are busy launching in the US and Australia. Minister Noonan with all his duty hikes isn’t making it easy either. But you never know,” FitzGerald says. Naked Wines has 5,000 customers in Northern Ireland, he adds.

In August 2013 the online wine retailer announced it had raised $10 million in a third-round investment from a German group of direct wine-selling companies and founder shareholders, in order to expand internationally.

Gormley and WIV Wein International AG, a €500 million family-owned German wine business, are its largest shareholders. The company has been reported previously to be considering a stock market flotation in the medium term. FitzGerald declined to comment on the company’s future fundraising plans.

He says working with Gormley has been a great experience. “Rowan is a really interesting guy. He set up three Virgin businesses for Sir Richard Branson, so I feel privileged to learn from such a figure.

“The great thing about him is he values attitude over experience. He put me in charge of a £35 million business aged 27 (before he was recently made UK managing director) with no experience of running a business, but I’ve learnt a hell of a lot, have delivered results and had a whole load of fun along the way.”

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