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Drinks industry leaders praise outgoing Direct Wines' chief Simon McMurtrie

Published:  07 January, 2015

Drinks industry leaders have heaped praise on outgoing Direct Wines' group chief executive Simon McMurtrie, as he prepares to take up a series of roles as  chairman of different businesses.

Drinks industry leaders have heaped praise on outgoing Direct Wines' group chief executive Simon McMurtrie, as he prepares to take up a series of roles as chairman of different businesses.

Simon McMurtrieSimon McMurtrie

McMurtrie is leaving his position later this month, to be replaced by the current UK managing director David Thatcher. In his new portfolio career, McMurtrie's first role will see him become non-executive chairman of a travel business. He told he hopes to "remain involved in the wine industry in one way or another - not least as an active Liveryman of the Vintners' Company".  "For now it's business as usual at Direct Wines as chief executive and then continuing to support Direct Wines as a consultant from the end of January to the end of June.  I remain on the board of the WSTA until the end of June," he said.

Michael Saunders, chief executive of Bibendum PLB, said of McMurtrie's time at Direct Wines: "Simon has been a true leader within the wine business. I have huge admiration for what he has achieved: internationally; the success domestically; and where I have seen him most is as a director of the WSTA. His contribution to help drive this important trade association forward has been immense - and I have enjoyed seeing him at work close up. He will be hugely missed; and overall we will be a poorer industry without him."

Miles Beale, chief executive of the WSTA, added: "Since I arrived at the WSTA two and a half years ago, Simon has been actively supportive - of the WSTA and to me personally. He has been prepared to commit to challenge and change, and been outspoken and constructively challenging of the WSTA and the industry more generally. He has been ever-present at WSTA board meetings and events, and he has always expressed his views clearly - including where he considers we have done a good job."

Ian Harris, chief executive of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, said: "The first time I met Simon McMurtrie was eight years ago, when he breezed into my office asking what benefits Laithwaite's were getting as a corporate patron of WSET. He said he only had half an hour, but seventy five minutes later he left, confirming that Laithwaites would not only continue as a patron of WSET, but would also offer a scholarship for a deserving student. 

"This decisive thinking became a hallmark in every subsequent meeting I had with Simon, who became one of WSET's greatest fans and supporters, including being part of the teaching faculty for WSET's Business & Commercial Knowledge course. He has always managed to combine pragmatic decision-making with a great strategic vision which has seen the company grow exponentially under his leadership - and always with education as a core pillar of the business - wherever in the world the company was expanding.

"A good example was when, at a Laithwaite's event at The Arch in Vinopolis, one of the staff knocked over and broke a glass. In no time at all, Simon had hurried to fetch a brush and a cloth to clear it up, and 30 seconds later he was back joining in the conversation.

"A great hands-on operator, with great strategic brain - a very rare combination."

Read our Q&A with Direct Wines new group chief executive David Thatcher in the People section.