The brewer that changed a culture

17/09/2008 - 22:00


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PHIL Sexton, the co-founder of Matilda Bay Brewing Co, Dome Coffees, and Little Creatures, believes there are three key elements to staff training in hospitality.

PHIL Sexton, the co-founder of Matilda Bay Brewing Co, Dome Coffees, and Little Creatures, believes there are three key elements to staff training in hospitality.

"Number one - work alongside them. Number two - don't ask things that you wouldn't do yourself. And number three - be open with them, show them the finances and teach them how to read them," Mr Sexton told Business Class.

Mr Sexton's years at Matilda Bay Brewing Co and the other significant ventures that he established following the Foster's takeover in 1990 have shaped up the local hospitality industry by training some the state's most successful entrepreneurs.

Included among Matilda Bay's more notable employees were Howard Cearns, a co-founder of the microbrewer Little Creatures, and accountant-turned-hospitality mogul Nic Trimboli.

The co-founder of one of Margaret River's iconic wineries, Stella Bella Wines, Janice MacDonald, and well-known hospitality figure and chair of the WA Tourism board, Kate Lamont, have also worked for the group.

Stuart Lofthouse (who now runs Leederville venues Greens and Cafe 130), Bar One owner Steve Scaffidi, and club owner Tim Browns are also on the list, while cafe owner David Cooney and the now-well known Must Wine Bar director Russel Blaikie and Star Anise owner David Coomer all worked in Mr Sexton's later ventures, which included Oriel, the Captain Stirling, 44 King Street and Dome Coffees.

Along with Garry Gosatti, John Tollis and Ron Groves, Mr Sexton started the Matilda Bay Brewing Co in 1984 after resigning from the Swan Brewery following its takeover by Lion Nathan in the early 1980s.

The business partners had observed the microbrewery surge happening in England and decided to start their own operation in WA.

"In Australia, there was one brewery in every state making one style of beer with an artificial agreement to not go beyond the state's borders," Mr Sexton said.

"We were to start a brewery to make a specialised beer in amongst that cosy arrangement."

When they realised restaurants and pubs would not buy their products because of the spell that major brewers had over the whole industry at the time, they decided to take the business one step further and open their own pub.

Fremantle's Sail and Anchor was the first venue to sell Matilda Bay beers, the first venue in WA to import beers from the eastern states such as Coopers, and the first to not sell Swan Brewery beers.

"We went on a program to get more and more pubs; by 1987 we had eight pubs running strongly in Perth, we had three pubs and a brewery in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne and one brewery pub in Hobart," Mr Sexton said.

Before the takeover in 1990, the Matilda Bay business and its management had proved to be the vehicle by which a generation of talented hospitality professionals had learned the ropes in a very different way to the then-dominant culture in WA.

Mr Cearns, who was marketing manager of Matilda Bay for three years, said the company brought a different take on the pubs and brewing industry.

"It was a company that was keen on not being gender biased and a lot of women were given opportunities. It created an environment by creating pubs and products that had a sense of style and design that wasn't blokey," he said.

Cafe owner David Cooney said Phil Sexton was really ''the godfather of hospitality in WA''

''His standards were so high and there are a lot of us around town who went through that training, which was very intense. I look at my days at Matilda Bay as my uni degree,'' he said.

Mr Gosatti said the search for excellence was embedded in the company culture at Matilda Bay.

" Training was a critical element of it," Mr Gosatti told Business Class. ''We were sort of writing the rulebook on how pubs should be run.

"There's a particular style that remains no matter what type of business they've gone to do; it's to do with the quality, which is never compromised whether it's a five-star operation or a corner pub."

When Patria Jafferies was appointed to Matilda Bay from the US to exclusively drive the staff training and look at growing and maintaining the company culture, it was a first in the sector.

"The people came to us, we never recruited. We were looking for creative and passionate people which, I guess, translate into entrepreneurship. We encouraged them to run the pubs like their own business," Mr Sexton said.

The post-takeover years proved to be fruitful, too, as new businesses were started, including two of the most successful hospitality ventures in WA.

Phil Sexton started Dome Coffees with Ms Jafferies and Phil May and sold his share in the business three years later.

He also co-founded Little Creatures Brewery with his former marketing and finance directors, Howard Cearns and Nic Trimboli respectively, before relocating to Melbourne to start a new winery, Giant Steps.

Mr Sexton is still highly involved with Little Creatures as he is looking after the development of its next product in the new facilities being built in the Yarra Valley, next door to his winery.


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