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Virgin Wines founder "removed from post"

Published:  23 July, 2008

Virgin Wines is refusing to comment on the departure of founder and chief executive Rowan Gormley, following an email Harpers received from the web-based wine retailer saying: "Rowan Gormley has been removed from the post of CEO at Virgin Wines with immediate effect."

However, an official document, filed at Companies House on Monday June 30, states that Gormley resigned rather than being pushed. Both parent company Direct Wines, which bought the company in 2005, and Virgin Wines itself refused to clarify the circumstances surrounding his departure.

An industry source told Harpers: "Rowan is an entrepreneur whose first priority is founding and building new business. It isn't surprising he has walked as the business has reached maturity and doesn't need him anymore."

It is believed that Gormley will not return to financial services, his previous area of business, and that he could stay in the wine trade.

Gormley's departure follows that of Virgin's managing director Oliver Garland in April. The company now has two new men at the top: director Frederick Stratford and Direct Wines' managing director Simon McMurtrie.

The company registered its first-ever profit in the year ended June 29 2007 having made a loss of more than 1.9 million the previous year. It also recorded its best month to date in December 2007, with like-for-like sales 43% higher than the same month in 2006. The company's financial results for 2007-08 are not yet available.

Malcolm Pinkerton, senior retail analyst at Verdict Research, said: "It is unlikely you would see online wine sales drop. We are seeing a significant number of people buying wines online. Virgin is still in its infancy so there is a lot of growth potential for them."

When reporting its Christmas results, Virgin claimed: "While many traditional wine merchants and wine shops have been reporting tough trading conditions, Virgin Wines has just recruited its 500,000th customer and is experiencing a significant increase in the number of new customers buying wine from the website."