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Coopers Brewery ferments next generation in restructure

By James Beech

Australia’s leading family of brewers has restructured its senior management to enable the fifth generation to transfer from commercial to custodial roles while the upcoming sixth generation learns the business.

Coopers Brewery said the organisational restructure was designed to provide additional support for Dr Tim Cooper (pictured), fifth-generation managing director, and to provide a more effective and efficient engagement with customers. The changes included the appointment of a general manager and the recruitment of a national marketing manager.

Melanie Cooper AM (pictured) is the fifth-generation director of finance and corporate affairs, company secretary, a chartered accountant, and chair of the Coopers Foundation. Asked by CampdenFB what prompted the restructure, Cooper said she was aged 58, her brother Tim was 63 and a cousin in the company was also in his 60s. The upcoming sixth generation of the family were aged in their early 30s and were just starting to join the family business. A transition was not ready to occur just yet.

“We felt we needed a stop-gap for that time between our retiring,” Cooper said.

“I’ll probably go on for another 5-10 years and the general manager that we’ve put in place is six years younger than me, so between the two of us that will be long enough for the next generation to be the custodians.”

The commercial manager was promoted to general manager to help take on some of the daily duties from Dr Cooper. His time would be saved because the only people who communicated with him directly were Melanie Cooper and the cousin who was the director of marketing. The other heads reported through the general manager.

The brewery brought a number of once siloed subsidiaries under the administrative control of the general manager. There was now greater communication, transparency of operations, control over decision-making and collaboration.

“Early days, but it’s working really well,” Cooper said.

“The shareholders will have some reservations about it initially because since the company was founded in 1862 it’s been run by a Cooper, to this day. A lot of shareholders will think it has to be run by a Cooper. But we feel it’s unfair to ask the next generation to step up to that level before they’ve developed their skills.

“It’s only temporary, but there might be five to 10 years when there may not be a Cooper as a managing director. When you consider how long we’ve been running—157 years—it is a blink of an eye. I will certainly be around. When our current chairman retires, I may go in as chair, so that’s being discussed at the moment. I’ve got another 10 years or so. Custodianship, with a family member in a sort of executive chairman ship role will help that transition.”

Coopers Brewery was founded by Thomas Cooper in South Australia in 1862. Before he died, Thomas transferred the family business to his four sons. Today, 93% of shareholders were related by birth or marriage to Thomas.

Sixth generation family member Andrew Cooper, son of chairman Glenn Cooper, was appointed national account manager at Coopers distributor Premium Beverages in Melbourne last year.

Coopers brews ales, stout, lagers, light and low carb beers. In line with reduced beer volumes, turnover declined to AUD$237.6 million in 2017-18 from AUD $252.4 million in 2016-17, but an increase was expected from the 2018-19 figures now being audited. Profit before tax rose 4% to $34.3 million in 2017-18 compared with $33.4 million in 2016-17.

Coopers’ AUD$65 million malting plant, hailed as the most technically advanced in the world, was the largest single investment in Coopers’ history when it began operations in 2018. The plan provided cost benefits as well as greater certainty over malt supply and quality, the company said.