Archive for September, 2011

and the fairies danced at midnight

and the fairies danced at midnight

September 21, 2011  |  life, main blog  |  2 Comments

I went to a wedding recently – probably been to 30 others over the years – but this one was different. It was a three day festival – the Tie the Knot Festival in the stunning Kangaroo Valley.

A talented bride and groom were the planners, architects and visionaries behind organising and delivering a complex event. They celebrated the philosophy of inclusiveness, with every one of the 140 guests having a particular role, however small. The broader participation of generous guests somehow added to the fulfilment – almost as though we all had a hand in creating this unique experience. The wedding planners catered for diverse interests (from yoga to karaoke), in this non-stop cauldron of activity that flowed from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning.

The wedding component was special – the love between the marrying couple so authentic and apparent in many ways. Their bespoke vows, exchanged in a bush cathedral of spiritual significance, transcended a ceremony of tradition and spontaneity. The bride jumped up and down with excitement when the celebrant pronounced them man and wife. Spoken blessings from friends and family were original and heartfelt, the bride and groom never stopped grinning. In this timeless bush setting, flanked by massive rock walls and lofty trees, we were united with nature and could feel a flood of love, emotion and spirituality wash over us. No more words were needed.

There was only a handful of baby boomers present – this was a festival for the bride and groom’s friends. When the band stopped playing at the reception, these friends were transformed on mass into fairies, in the blink of an eye. They seemed to have done it before and were eager to seek their collective liberation through costume and friendship.

It was different because we had sensory stimulation, from the stunning location at Kangaroo Valley Bush Retreat, to the food and beverage (cocktails, Back Vintage fizz, Berry sourdough bakery breakfast, Duck Duck Goose catering), and to the infectious enthusiasm of a collective of fun loving, caring young men and women. Constant stimulation also came from a spirit and tone which transcended the event….a spirit of love, inclusion, care and friendship. It was truly remarkable.

That bride is my daughter, Catherine – and you can’t begin to imagine how happy I am for her, and how much I love and respect her – and her caring, understanding husband, Cyrus. My mate Les, a person of great depth and wisdom, penned the following verse which captured powerfully the essence of the festival. I offer it with his permission and my total admiration.

 the fairies danced at midnight

kindred spirits wait

dwarfed by nature

bush beauty

and weathered rock

the voice of an angel

time stops

wisdom shared

vows read

clouds passed overhead

as tears flowed

with contagion joy

and the fairies danced at midnight.


ordered grace

laughter, courage

a warm embrace

family pride

on display

a speechless bride

remained at play

the bush sparkled

the knot tied tight

and the fairies danced at midnight.

colour, movement

souls set free

costumes, lanterns

burning trees

moonlight magic

stars shone bright

a sea of love

at high tide

and the fairies danced at midnight.

audacious, amazing

never again

a one off moment

shared with friends

creative joy

knows no bounds

when spirit soars

and laughter sounds

and fairies dance at midnight

penetrating the USA market

Sustainable penetration of the lucrative US market by Australian companies is uncommon. Although there may be diminished appetite for market entry by export, investment or full participation due to current exchange rates, the US is still the king of global markets. Many Australian corporates have tried, however not many have succeeded.

Much has been written about the way Yellowtail Wines created as much value organically as Fosters paid for Beringer by acquisition, and the Westfield shopping mall penetration is well known. The successful entry of the US market by listed Australian building materials company James Hardie, is another case study that offers some valuable insights to aspirants.

James Hardie initially entered the US market in 1990 with imported fibre cement roofing and it was apparent by the early 90’s that a prospective market for siding products existed. Siding is the term used for a product we might call weatherboard, and in the USA some of the engineered wood siding products were failing in the southern States. Savvy local operators led by the current Hardie CEO, Louis Gries, made the choice clear – “there is a big market opportunity here. You can have a skimming strategy or a penetration strategy, depending on price”. The right price for a penetration strategy demanded a lower cost base.

Even with the establishment of manufacturing capacity in California, the cost base, at $400 per thousand square feet, would only enable market skimming. It needed to be $200. There were those who thought the task impossible, but the Americans, particularly those from Chicago, are real “can do” people. We assembled a team of American engineers and Australian researchers, committed between 4 and 5% of sales to R&D (an amazing level for a building materials company) and 18 months later had cracked it – a volume market strategy for the biggest building materials market in the world.

What were the critical decisions made to ensure this success?

  • Having a low cost base enabled Hardiplank to be competitively priced for volume
  • Hardie committed from the outset to putting capacity into the market ahead of demand. That takes courage and commitment.
  • Hardie built plants around freight logistics to cover targeted consumer segments
  • A brilliant, hard-nosed sales force won the hearts and minds of the dealers in a classical two step distribution model (which later incorporated direct)
  • The company used customer preference to steer the ongoing R&D with winning new products hitting the mark every time.

James Hardie penetration of the US siding market became so successful that it surprised the industry. In fact, the market was sufficiently attractive that competitors entered – some of the biggest players in the world including Saint Gobain and Temple Inland. They each spent the best part of $100 million on a single plant, only to retreat after some years.

James Hardie was able to grow market share and see off competitors not only because it had driven the cost base down, but because we had also moved way up the experience curve in the process of understanding how to produce at a lower cost. We also empowered the local operation, which had a deep understanding of the market and drove distribution decisions around freight logistics. It was also about a focused corporate and operational mindset, people determined to win and who understood that there were no quick fixes or short cuts. As the architect of the strategy and CEO who started the journey, Keith Barton, used to say….”get the conditions right and the outcomes will flow”.

Today Hardie (as it is known in the USA) owns the market. The Hardie brand has become the generic for fibre cement and the US exceeds 80% of total company revenue. Products now include siding in its many variations and backer board.

The USA new housing market will take quite a while to pick up again, but when it does, watch those fibre cement machines start pumping in the ten USA plants, strategically positioned around the USA

a glass of sieber road gsm please

September 4, 2011  |  wine review  |  No Comments

The quarterly dozen of goodies came through from Cloudwine a couple of weeks ago. One of my pet aversions is regular dozens that turn up “wine club style” – despatches over which you have no control, and which are often padded with slow sellers. Well, I’ve made one exception, because Chris and his team serve up interesting, quality, value entries that are not found in the big box retailers. Subscribers also have the ability to tailor the styles according to preference.

It was a surprise and a pleasure to open the 2007 Sieber Road Grenache (42%), Shiraz (40%) Mouvedre (18%), as part of the latest pack. The only problem is that it came after I published the latest list of fine Australian wines under $20, because this one would have made it. At $15 by the dozen at cellar door, it’s excellent value and right in the sweet spot for my blog. Check the vintage though as this reviewed wine is a 2007 vintage from Cloudwine for $20.

Sieber Road is in the western Barossa – close to Seppeltsfield – and cropped low by Ben Sieber for more intense flavour. The GSM is a mouthful of exploding fruit. Although the GSM blend is the classic style from the southern Rhone, the French would be astonished at the succulent fruit and power of this little Barossan beauty. At 15% alcohol, it’s a big wine but not unbalanced. It opens with sweet, plummy fruit, fills the palate with spices and mocha, and has sufficient length to make the total experience a drinking pleasure. I’ve given it a weighty 92 points, which at $15 is a true bargain.

Note – just tasted this wine again – day 2, 24 hours breathing. Not as impressed. Brown tinges, fruit more jammy and not as lively. Not a wine to cellar. Tonight 90, night one 92.