You might be familiar with Erica Crawford as the woman behind well-known wine brand Kim Crawford Wines. Since selling Kim Crawford Wines 10 years ago, Erica launched organic wine company Loveblock Wines in 2013.
Erica is a member of Co.OfWomen and we chatted with her about her career and business success ahead of the session she is leading at their annual inspire’16 camp on 2 November.
1. How did you get started on this career path and end up where you are now?
I started my career life as a young researcher in the field of Cardiac Medicine at the University of Cape Town. Got distracted by “sex, drugs and rock and roll”, never really had that finite X factor to become a published academic success story. I was interested in life: its many places and people, politics, valleys and peaks. I was the one who organized the social events for the lab, who was given the tortured geniuses to induct; I think my path was always with people.
Now at the other end of the career path, I manage the family wealth and wine businesses. Now we focus on organic farming and wine, it is incredibly satisfying to see how the soil has changed for the better with organics; the soil is the basis of everything.
2. Where does your ambition come from? What drives you?
I have always had it, ambition, since I was a kid in primary school, albeit in a quiet determined way then. Set a goal, go out and go get it, then the next one and the next one. I’m from a large family, and you learn to plot your own path early on in that environment.
A latent fear of failure also drives me I think. It’s a self-perpetuating – set lofty goals, the fear failure drives you so badly that you make it work. I also have that “bring it on” thing very strongly. I really don't like losing.
3. What’s your biggest goal?
My vision for Loveblock Wines is to create an integrated, organic environment where we grow grapes and make wine, but also commercialize other products as well. For instance, we use cattle primarily as “lawn mowers” on the hill sides to keep the fire risk down. So why not produce Loveblock organic grass fed beef and send it to restaurants in Sydney, New York etc.? We could similarly do organic eggs at a later stage as chickens are used in vineyard to pick at pests such as grass grub and weeds.
4. What gets you through the tough parts of running a business?
Having a laugh. My people are story tellers, and when the going gets so tough that you want to give up, we laugh – what else can you do. Seeing the upside and the funny side of bad situations smooths out the bumps. I believe adversity brings out the best in people. The other part is to move on, find the next story or challenge, don't dwell.
5. What’s your favourite part of your job?
People. I miss having a bigger team around me, I love sales and cutting a deal.
6. What career achievement are you most proud of?
I am incredibly proud of that Kim Crawford brand. We built it with $20,000 from the back room of our little Eden Terrace cottage in 1996, and now, 20 years later is arguably the most successful wine brand launched out of NZ. Today it’s NZ’s biggest brand into the US, into Canada at a premium price point. While it now belongs to a large corporation, I can help but turn the bottles on shelf anywhere in the world so that it looks just right, wherever I am in the world.
We worked so hard, every wine listing was a triumph. The brand had such energy, it really was a challenger brand that Auckland, New York and London took to its heart very early on.
7. What got you interested in organic farming?
It started in my early thirties when we were working so hard growing the fledgling Kim Crawford brand. We hit a few bumps along the way; my father was dying in Africa and our kids were preschoolers. I was in a motor car accident and was told by the cardiologist that I presented like a stressed out, 55 year old corporate business man. I started eliminating additives & colourants and started feeling better, less “uptight”, my headaches disappeared. Then I looked at skin care and changed to natural skincare as far as I could. I also invested in a natural skin care company, literally putting skin in the game. Then I looked at house hold detergents etc. and changed chemicals out as far as I could. It requires a bit more elbow grease but that sucks up calories :).
8. This year Co.OfWomen inducted you into the New Zealand Hall of Fame for Women Entrepreneurs in recognition of your achievements. How has your experience with Co.OfWomen helped you in your career?
I was humbled and honored to receive this award, it feels good to be recognized by one’s peers. Co.OfWomen provides a safe forum to exchange ideas, shoulders to lean on and supporters for your products. Women support women, especially in the SME environment which is often quite isolating.
9. Why do you think business support organisations for women (like Co.OfWomen) are important?
Women notoriously sell themselves short, feel they don't quite measure up in the business environment. These organisations act as a mouth piece for women, a mouth piece for gender equality and provide collegiate support to women.
10. Are you doing now what you thought you would be when you imagined your life as a child?
I am firmly committed to the Loveblock dream described above. I wanted to be a doctor - I never thought I would end up in New Zealand!
11. Is there a woman in New Zealand business who you look up to?
I got to know Diane Foreman when I was a judge at the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards. For years, Diane had to justify her success, she was unfairly judged as the beneficiary of her husband’s wealth and success. I totally identified with that. She smashed that ridiculous notion by selling a second company very successfully this year. I was so proud of her.
I learnt from Diane that you have to know each part of your business intimately, because in the end, if it is family owned, you will be the last person standing. This partly motivated me to learn more about viticulture, as we have large asset holdings in vineyard land.
12. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a young woman starting out as an entrepreneur?
Do your due diligence, work the numbers and then listen to your intuition. If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn’t.