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Top 10 30-Somethings 2018: Julie Ryan

Top Ten 30 Somethings
ACC's Top 10 30-Somethings program is now accepting nominations. The program recognizes the world's best in-house counsel between the ages of 30 and 39. During the nomination period, which runs until Friday, December 7, ACCDocket.com will feature profiles of the 2018 honorees, who showcase the innovation, proactive approach to challenges, strong global perspective, in-house advocacy, and commitment to pro bono and community service that have been become hallmarks of the program. Visit our Top 30-Somethings nomination page for more information.

W ine production is an art that stretches back 60 centuries. The modern winemaking process isn't drastically different than the ancient technique. Wine still needs to ferment — a modern bottle of red wine takes an average of two years to produce before it's opened and enjoyed. The wine business, however, has changed a lot since the days of Julius Caesar.

At the forefront of that change is Accolade Wines and its General Counsel and Company Secretary Julie Ryan. The company is the No. 1 producer of wine (by volume) in the United Kingdom and Australia and the fifth-largest producer of wine in the world.

Its vertical production model means it controls everything from grape growing to viticulture to bottling and pack¬aging, as well as the commercial aspects of selling to retail customers or distributors and direct to consumer.

Accolade Wines has a variable sourcing model that includes purchasing grapes from over 600 growers and bulk wine from hundreds of providers. Its facilities in Australia produce more wine than all of New Zealand. With 18 offices in 12 countries, and production in every New World wine region in the world, Accolade has genuinely grown to its vision of being the world's leading provider of New World wines.

Interwoven with that growth is Ryan's legal and business savvy. With a background in M&A, she found herself directly involved in acquiring wineries (and their related brands and businesses) in the United States, New Zealand, Australia, and Chile.

At the same time, she was building her legal team. She was promoted from deputy general counsel to general counsel in 2016, and as her first order of business, she was told to design a zero-based budget centered on what was actually needed, not what was done before.

"We realized how many inefficiencies there were and how much we could save by doing it smarter, faster, or indeed as it turned out, not doing it all," Ryan reflects.

Two years later, Accolade Wines now has a contract management system that gives contract ownership to the business. Compliance software allows the company to quickly comply with both its tax requirements for its bonded UK facility, as well as efficiently meet the due diligence requirements under its global anti-bribery policy (which Ryan also wrote and implemented).

With over 2,000 trademarks to manage, her team partnered with a global firm to establish a unique retainer model for global trademark management to significantly reduce trademark management costs. Prior to all of these changes, the legal department was inundated with simple questions that took valuable time away from other pressing tasks.

For example, trade promotions, like winning a free bottle, are regulated and require standard terms. The marketing team used to rely on the legal team to apply for the permit and draft the conditions.

After Ryan's modifications, the marketing team uses self-complete, easy-to-use templates, and an external firm now verifies permits in bulk for 75 percent less cost than doing it in-house. Ryan focused her team, explaining that "there is a huge efficiency to being a subject matter expert." Removing nonessential tasks was the key to delivering better value.

Ryan's business sense manifested itself in other ways as well. Wine's long supply chain means long-term contracts are not unusual. When a dispute arose with a UK company that was one of the top five global customers, representing sales of over US$45 million of wine per year, she recognized the business threat and quickly converted the dispute by meeting her negotiating counterpart in Singapore.

She smoothed over the commercial agreement, which resulted in a revised and restated 10-year contract that included new business opportunities. It was something that would typically be handled by the UK general manager, but the position was vacant at the time, so she rose to the occasion. Her leadership was obvious to the board and she joined the global leadership team — as the only woman.

Ryan's hard work in transforming the legal department has paid off. Global buyout firm Carlyle Group bought Accolade for AUD $1 billion earlier this year. There's no doubt many glasses were raised to the legal team who made it happen.

About the Author

Joshua H. Shields is the managing editor of the Association of Corporate Counsel.


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