The Moodie Davitt Report brings you the latest instalment in our popular series Ten Easy Pieces*, in which we get up close and personal with leading travel retail personalities via ten snapshot questions.
Meet Barry Geoghegan, the ebullient Duty Free Global Founder and Commercial Director whose enthusiasm is his trademark.
1. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Dublin. My mother Sheila was an air hostess with Aer Lingus and my father, Michael, was Aer Rianta International’s Business Development Manager. He opened the overseas office in Bahrain and also lived in Hong Kong for 18 months for ARI.
We (my parents and two brothers, Niall and Conor) lived in Malahide, which is only a few miles from Dublin Airport. It was always full of pilots, duty free staff, aircraft leasing executives and the likes. I guess you could say that I was born into airports, travel and travel retail. It must be in my blood.
As, it seems, is getting up early. I travelled by train to school every day so I was an early riser from a young age and still am to this day.
As a youngster I enjoyed school but my main focus was on sports. Rugby, soccer and Gaelic football were my favourites and I played with my brothers for local clubs. At secondary school I played football for the school and was School Captain in my final year.
2. Did you consider a profession in sport?
I love sport but I was never good enough to play professionally. I played to a good standard; I still do and I have made so many great friends through sport. I love all sports and wherever there is someone wearing a green jersey for Ireland I’ll be there to support them if I possible. I’ve travelled to over 30 countries to support the ‘Boys in Green’.
I still actively support my local province Leinster in rugby, Celtic and Liverpool in football and Dublin GAA, which recently won the Gaelic football All-Ireland for the fourth year in a row.
My university studies were influenced by sport as I was awarded a football scholarship to University College Dublin (UCD) and played on the college’s first team in the League of Ireland. Whilst at UCD we toured Australia, Thailand, the USA and Singapore. There we played the national team in the national stadium. It was 90 degrees and full humidity; a real challenge but a special memory.
I studied economics because the Irish economy and job prospects were not good at that time and that degree seemed to be the natural route to employment. During those years, the mid to late 1980s, there was no work available in Ireland and so many people of my age emigrated. My older brother went to Australia and most of my class mates moved to the UK or the USA.
I thought the degree would open the right doors for me. So I moved to London and worked in the City for 18 months on a graduate training programme.
The banking scene, however, was not for me. I returned to Ireland to start work in the wine trade.
3. What sparked your interest in wine?
I started working with a small trading company specialising in products from Spain. I particularly took to the Spanish wines and travelled extensively to all the key wine regions. I loved it. So when an opportunity arose to take over the wine side of the business, I jumped at it.
I convinced the bank to lend me the money and away I went; I was 21 and had my own business.
“Next year I will celebrate 30 years working in the wine and spirits business and I don’t regret one day of this great journey.”
The first thing I did was to change the portfolio from Spanish-only to include the wines of up and coming regions in Chile, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. I included some classics from France and Italy and I changed the company name from Iber Wines to Fruit of the Vine.
It was a great time as New World wines were exploding on the market and wine was becoming increasingly popular in a country traditionally known as a beer and whiskey market.
Next year I will celebrate 30 years working in the wine and spirits business and I don’t regret one day of this great journey.
4. And you continued to study as well?
Yes, that’s right. University and continued studies have played a big role in my life. I met my wife Orla at the end of my first year in UCD and my studies in wine have greatly impacted my career.
I worked and studied, with a huge focus on wine. I completed all the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) wine courses to diploma level and I also did the first year of the Master of Wine but that was interrupted by the birth of our first kids, twins Ben and Max. Sean was born three years later.
In 2001 I started in the first Wine MBA, studying in five universities: Bordeaux Business School, UC Davis California, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Keio Business School in Tokyo and University of South Australia in Adelaide. It was a brilliant course with students from ten different nationalities. A great eclectic mix of cultures and a fantastic life experience. I finished the MBA with First Class Honours and won the award for the Best Marketing and Best Strategic Management Thesis.
“To me, every bottle of wine represents an actual person or culture. It’s all about the person behind the label, behind the winemaking, the people I have met, the culture and real people.”
The Wine MBA helped pave the way to a new direction and I started lecturing to WSET Diploma students. I focused on three different lectures: Bordeaux and French regional wines; Wines of the New World and The Business of Wine, which was always my favourite subject.
I like to think I have an open style of imparting knowledge that makes people feel comfortable. I try not to overcomplicate the subject and, of course, make it as enjoyable as possible.
To me, every bottle of wine represents an actual person or culture. It’s all about the person behind the label, behind the winemaking, the people I have met, the culture and real people.
5. What was your original business plan and how has that developed?
It’s in the name really. Duty Free Global is a dedicated wines and spirits partner for the travel retail operators globally.
I wanted to help bring to the channel the ‘other’ great craft spirits brands and quality wine producers who otherwise would not have access to this sector. I am focused on this great channel and recognise the need to be a specialist as duty free has such different requirements to the domestic business.
I think the operators really appreciate when companies understand the channel’s issues: high minimum annual guarantees, short contracts, margin protection vis-à-vis domestic pricing, exclusive products, the correct formats, promotional mechanics and so on.
“Travel retail and the booze business are not for the faint-hearted. In my opinion, the industry is unique. But you have to be in it for the long haul; if you go in with rose-tinted glasses and assume that it will all be easy, you won’t last long.”
I pride myself in matching the operator’s needs with the brand owner’s offer. This insight has allowed me to build the business globally and gives all parties the confidence to trust this business model approach. I choose when possible to work with family-owned businesses. This is the case with my long association with Taylors/Wakefield wines in Australia, Les Grands Chais de France and Paul Sapin in France.
In my experience, working with the brand owners allows me to tailor-make the offer to align the needs of the travel retail operators.
I have been delighted to bring to the channel some of the world’s top-quality craft spirits brands to complement the wine portfolio. Look at Tito’s Homemade Vodka, Sazerac bourbons, Gold Bar Whiskey and Four Pillars gin from the Yarra Valley near Melbourne. I have just returned from a visit to the distillery and, my God, they’re a passionate, driven group of great people.
Naturally being Irish, I’m proud to work with top brands from my home country such as Gunpowder Gin and the Walsh Whiskey Distillery.
It’s fair to say the business has developed well and each year we build the network and its gets stronger and stronger.
6. What do you consider the greatest challenge facing the drinks category in travel retail?
Travel retail and the booze business are not for the faint-hearted. In my opinion, the industry is unique. But you have to be in it for the long haul; if you go in with rose-tinted glasses and assume that it will all be easy, you won’t last long. I don’t think you can apply the same tools that are used in domestic markets to the global travel retail channel.
Everyone loves wine; it’s romantic, somehow, but it’s also a business that’s really exposed to the vagaries of Mother Nature. In Europe last year some vineyard owners lost as much as 80 % of their total crop due to difficult growing conditions. This is why you have to be concentrated on the viticulture 12 months of the year to protect the precious fruit.
To make a consistent wine brand is virtually impossible as one year can differ so much from the next. This is one of the great challenges facing the wine trade.
The spirits category on the other hand doesn’t normally suffer from scarcity of raw materials and business planning and production tends to be more predictable.
“I would love to create and activate an industry best practice wine training programme. In wine, a little knowledge would go a long way to building the category and creating channel ‘champions’.”
Wine hasn’t been given the attention it deserves historically. This is because spirits has been an easier category to manage. As wine is so reliant on the conditions of a particular vintage, the supply is erratic and therefore it is difficult to build brand positioning.
I would love to create and activate an industry best practice wine training programme. In wine, a little knowledge would go a long way to building the category and creating channel ‘champions’.
In the case of craft spirits, the key is to provide the travel retail operators with the correct format (in most cases a 1-litre) with the right relationship or price saving to the domestic formats.
I would also encourage ongoing training for the spirits category as new styles continue to emerge and, as we all know, younger consumers want to support authentic products from passionate producers.
7. Do you have a mentor or role model?
I have been very lucky to have learned from many great people in my career. In particular both my father, Michael, and my father-in-law, Hugo, have been extremely generous and invaluable in their advice over the years.
I would also like to recognise the great help that many industry stalwarts have given to me: George Horan, Colm McLoughlin, John Sutcliffe, Dermot Davitt, Martin Moodie, David Spillane and Jane Grant, to name but a few.
I have great respect for some of the great brand builders in the industry and, in particular, I have much admiration for the way that Moët Hennessy have championed the Champagne category and built great brands. I think the LVMH group’s knowledge on how to build luxury brands (in perfume & cosmetics and fashion) has been invaluable in this strategy.
The Helfrich family, the founders of Les Grand Chais de France, have done a super job in championing French wines globally and are very hands-on in the business, which I respect greatly.
“I’m passionate, really passionate, about many things: family, wine, sport, music.”
I am also very impressed with how Alessandro Bottega has built his prosecco business in travel retail and the great job that Treasury Wine Estates have done in the category, in particular with Penfolds.
9. What are your best, and worst, traits?
I’m passionate, really passionate, about many things: family, wine, sport, music.
I dote on my family of course; they are always my number one priority. And I love wine. It’s not just the taste; it’s the stories behind the labels. I find that fascinating. It’s also all about the people I have met and the many great friends I have made in the industry.
And, as I have mentioned, I love sport; any sport, you name it, I’ll support it. I love to attend big sporting occasions like a World Cup. The next major event will be the Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019 where Ireland could go as the second-ranked team. Now that will be an exciting prospect.
The good thing about being Irish is we will enjoy the event regardless of the outcome.
And I love music, especially U2, my hometown band. They are local boys; two of the members, Adam and The Edge, grew up in Malahide. I’ve been to about 64 of their gigs throughout the world and will be going to a few more later this year.
I have a very eclectic taste in music and I grew up listening to the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, David Bowie, The Doors, Coldplay, The Pogues and UB40. It’s a passion.
My bad traits? I talk way too fast and have to take a breath now again. And I get carried away. It’s pure enthusiasm. But I also know that people remember stories rather than technical details, so that’s not going to be changing in the short term.
But hey, I do things the Irish way.
10. Is there a quiet side to Barry Geoghegan?
Oh yes, there is definitely a wind down time. When I’m returning from a trip, I can’t wait to get home. Our house is in the Wicklow Mountains and after the odd late night in Cannes, Dubai, Hong Kong or Orlando, it’s nice to just wind down. I look out from my home-based office, across the Irish countryside with just the moonlight and wild deer for company and it’s magical, really magical.
I walk most mornings. I try to cover around 10kms, with my dogs. Millie and Jess are golden retrievers and they are great company. And through my love of walking I got involved in a charity climb with five friends a few years ago. We climbed Ben Nevis to raise money for cancer and ended up raising €200,000 in 11 months.
We donated 50% to cancer research and 50% to cancer care. I figured while I can still walk and climb this was a good way to exercise and help raise some money for worthy causes.
And the climb was pretty sociable. The first time we were up in shorts and the second we had to use crampons for the last 250m. It was dangerous but also very satisfying. And it got me and my friends off our backsides. The climbing kind of suited me I think; much better than cycling in lycra, for example.
I wasn’t the fastest going up the mountain but, for some reason, I beat them all coming down. I was going down like a skier and I was well into my second ‘orange juice’ when the others were arriving back. I enjoyed that.
When time permits I have recently started to watch Netflix with my wife. I should underline ‘when time permits’ as it doesn’t happen very often. Orla and I spend time with our boys whenever we can as well. Sean is 17 and Ben and Max are 20 so we make the most of any moments together.
Just living in the country helps slows down your metabolism; the whole place is a stabiliser. On the down side, we’ve been snowed in; it takes me at least two hours to mow the lawns and there are lots of midges in the summer. But hey! They are all first-world problems; I am lucky and grateful for my life.
So yes, there is a quiet side to me. There has to be I suppose.
*PREVIOUSLY FEATURED TEN EASY PIECES PERSONALITIES INCLUDE: