Grape minds think alike – working with Virgin Wines to find them a new CTO

Virgin Wines work with more than 40 winemakers across the globe. Together they source, blend and curate collections of award-winning and exclusive wines. They then sell these as both standalone products and through subscriptions.  

More than 90% of Virgin’s wine is created solely for them. Their team works with winemakers to create individual blends either at source or at their headquarters in Norwich. This unique way of working means they can sell exclusive wines to their customers at affordable prices. It’s not just about wine either – they also stock premium spirits and craft beers. 

Behind the scenes the Virgin Wine team analyse more than 100,000 wine reviews each year. They use this data to evolve and update their range to meet the exacting tastes of their customers. And to make sure they’re the go-to company for premium wine, beers and spirits. 

The challenge 

We were approached by Jay Wright, Virgin Wine’s CEO, to help them to find a new chief technology officer (CTO). We already had a good relationship with the organisation, having previously worked with their then-current CTO Karl Wharam.  

In 2021, Virgin Wines was floated on the Alternative Investment Market, a sub-market of the London Stock Exchange for smaller companies. So they needed to find an experienced, driven and hands-on CTO to lead the delivery of the technology aspects of their ambitious five-year ‘post-float’ plan. It was an exciting opportunity for an innovative and creative person to join a leading business embarking on a new phase of growth. 

Reporting directly to the CEO, the right person would help Virgin Wines meet and exceed their goals. But even though this was a leadership role, they also needed someone who’d be happy to roll up their sleeves and get involved in the day-to-day activities of the team. The perfect candidate also had to have experience of leading an IT function, managing and motivating technology teams, and innovating, implementing and maintaining technology.  

All in all it was a challenging brief. Much of Virgin Wines’ success is down to their people, culture and purpose – so finding the right leader was incredibly important. 

The solution 

We created an innovative microsite that brought Virgin Wines’ passion for people and brand identity to life. It included a full job description, an introduction to Virgin Wines and a video from the CEO. We then targeted CTOs from across the UK, as well as from our local networks, to find the very best people. We screened over 400 candidates in six weeks using criteria we’d previously discussed and agreed with Karl and Jay, keeping the Virgin Wines’ team updated on our progress with weekly reports.  

Once we’d put together a longlist of candidates, we designed a process to allow Jay to choose the right CTO based on an informal interview to formal interview approach – one that reflected the business’ value proposition. This helped them to really get to know each candidate and find out who had the right combination of skills and cultural fit.  

Using this process we whittled our list of 400 candidates down to just seven, interviewing them over a fortnight. We were left with two exceptional candidates who both fitted the bill, giving Jay a tough decision to make. The successful applicant was Gareth Nutt, a technology and digital leader with a strong track record of creating innovative digital strategies, and delivering digital and technology transformation programmes. 

It was really important to Jay that every applicant for the position felt valued. So he organised for each and every one to get a box of wine, accompanied by a personal note thanking them for applying.  

How did Pure make a difference? 

The microsite we created immediately differentiated this position from others on the market, helping us attract a special kind of candidate. We also worked hard to make sure that Jay and his colleagues always knew exactly where we were with our search and the interview process. Jay says, ‘It’s been a pleasure working with [Pure Director] Scott Woodrow and the wider Pure recruitment team. We were looking for a top-level candidate for a senior position of critical importance to our business, and I can’t speak highly enough of the process Scott ran.’ Jay was particularly impressed with the way we ran the process from initial research to finding the perfect candidate: ‘Everyone worked with precision, great communication and a sense of real collaboration. I have no hesitation in recommending Scott – he’ll be my first port of call for any future senior appointments.’ 

Their new CTO Gareth was also very pleased with the way we carried out the recruitment process. He said: ‘It’s one of the best I’ve been through – a real feat considering it happened during lockdown and everything had to be done over video calls. I’m really excited to start working with Jay and the team, and looking forward to driving Virgin Wines’ vibrant business forward.’ 

how CAN we help you?

Pure Executive specialises in board-level appointments, helping organisations with their succession planning. So if you’re recruiting for an executive position, or looking for one yourself, feel free to get in touch.

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Written by

Scott Woodrow

Scott is a Director at Pure, having joined us in 2004. After specialising in senior finance recruitment for several years, he now leads our technology, marketing and digital division. Scott specialises in filling senior management and board-level IT appointments across the east of England.

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