Time just right for new leadership challenges

Ben Paxton grew up working on his family’s vineyard, studied wine marketing at Roseworthy, got his first permanent job at Chapel Hill Winery, then spent a number of years in the Grampians region of western Victoria.

When he did return to McLaren Vale, it was on the understanding that he’d help his dad out for six months before going off to do his own thing again. That was 16 years ago.

There are no regrets, however, and as Paxton Vineyards moves into a growth phase Ben has been given a great opportunity to further develop his leadership and management skills and build a new professional network.

He was 1 of 31 people from around Australia selected in 2016 to take part in the prestigious Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP) and his involvement is being funded by Wine Australia.

The program looks at key leadership issues such as personal effectiveness, ethics, social responsibility and dealing with complex situations, but does so in a non-conventional way.

Things kicked off in August with two weeks in the Kimberley Ranges – where ‘we got to know each other pretty well’ – then the last week of November was spent in Melbourne learning about working with the media, leadership for change and their personality traits.

Other sessions over the 15 months of the program will take them to Albury, Jakarta and Canberra – and there’s a group project to be completed as well.

‘I decided to apply because I was talking to a friend in the wine sector who had done it and said it was perfect for me given where I am with my career and what is happening with our business’, Ben said.

‘To me it’s appealing because it’s like an immersion program rather than an academic program. It’s not a degree by correspondence; you’re totally engaged. It’s still early days, but it appears that’s the case.

‘To be honest I didn’t really know what to expect so it’s been a huge learning curve for me; just understanding the way I think and approach problems is all important.’

Ben has gained greatly from the insights of others outside the wine sector about issues that affect rural and regional Australia, from water to market volatility.

Like many wine businesses, Paxton is a family affair. Ben’s father David has been a respected viticulturist in McLaren Vale since the 1970s, selling grapes to leading wineries, managing vineyards for others, and consulting around the country.

He decided to get a bit of wine made under his own label in 1998, and the first release two years later coincided with Ben’s return. Today, Ben handles everything from production management, inventory control and logistics to sales and marketing.

‘As we’ve grown we’ve brought in more people, which has changed the level and range of my responsibilities but also given a little more flexibility to do something like this, which I hope will improve my effectiveness and my ability to try new things’, he said.

‘One of my aims as a result of this program is to become a more effective and positive contributor to my business, the sector and my chosen causes within our beautiful region.’