Matt Tapper to leave Lion

Matt Tapper, Managing Director of Lion Little World Beverages, has announced he is leaving the brewer after 25 years.

Tapper has decided it is time to take on a new challenge and will finish up at the end of March 2022. He was appointed as head of Little World Beverages following its establishment in 2015 and was based in Sydney until last year, when he moved to the US alongside a team from Lion. The US has been a key growth market for the business since it launched the Little Creatures brand in San Francisco in 2019.

Tapper’s departure follows Lion MD James Brindley announcing in October that he was preparing to step down at the end of 2021 after 27 years with the brewer and 12 years as Managing Director of Lion Australia. Brindley will be replaced by David Smith who joins Lion from Diageo, where he is currently Managing Director, Southern Europe. 

Lion CEO Stuart Irvine also revealed in May that he had decided to step down after eight years in the top job.

Tapper will be replaced by New Belgium CEO, Steve Fechheimer. Fechheimer will lead the combined New Belgium and Bell’s craft beer business from the United States, joining Lion’s Group Leadership team from January 2022.

Lion announced yesterday that it had snared Bell’s craft brewery, establishing the Australian company as a leading player in world’s largest craft beer market. Once the deal is complete, it will create the fifth-largest craft brewery control group, Brewbound reported, behind AB Inbev’s Brewers Collective, D.G. Yuengling & Son, Molson Coors’ Tenth & Blake, and Boston Beer Company.

Lion CEO Stuart Irvine said: “I’d like to thank Matt for his significant contribution to Lion over many years, and most recently his excellent leadership of Lion’s global craft business during the pandemic. He has kept our people safe, maintained business continuity, and continued to deliver great commercial outcomes.”  

“Earlier in his career, Matt established Speight’s as a leading national brand in New Zealand, followed by award-winning campaigns for XXXX Island and Tap King, along with the launches of Furphy and the integration of Little Creatures.

“Matt’s leadership and strategic foresight has created a strong platform for growth in the US, with the successful acquisition of New Belgium in 2019 and Bell’s Brewing announced this week. We thank Matt for his entrepreneurial spirit and passion and wish him all the best for the future.” 

Tapper said: “Lion has provided me with the opportunity to create some incredible brand experiences for consumers and customers all over the world. To do that with a great bunch of colleagues has been an absolute pleasure.”

“I’m especially proud of establishing a new business over the past six years – from that first small micro-brewery in Hong Kong, to Little Creatures becoming the number one craft beer in Singapore, through to major acquisitions in the UK and establishing ourselves as a leader in U.S. craft with New Belgium and now Bell’s.

“Each step we have taken has been smarter, bolder and bigger – I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I wish my Lion and Kirin colleagues every success for the future.”    

“I’m looking forward to spending an Australian summer with my family after two years in the US and I’m long overdue a beer with my Lion colleagues and friends in Australia and New Zealand.”

Tapper will continue to lead the UK craft beer and US fine wine businesses until his departure next year.

Who is Steve Fechheimer?

Steve Fechheimer became CEO of New Belgium Brewing in 2017, joining the company from Beam Suntory, where he was Chief Strategy Officer. He replaced Kim Jordan, New Belgium’s co-founder and former CEO.

“We are so excited to welcome Steve to New Belgium,” said Jordan at the time of his appointment. “His expertise at strategy development and execution in the high-end world of spirits, coupled with our 26 years of solid brewing and branding, is a perfect setup for the kind of dynamic future New Belgium is planning. Steve is smart and driven while also being approachable, and we’re all excited about the perfect cultural and business fit. We took our time to find a terrific candidate and feel very lucky that we’ve done just that.”

As Chief Strategy Officer at Beam Suntory, Fechheimer led organic growth initiatives such as route-to-market design and distributor negotiations. He also led acquisitions, divestitures, the creation of global partnerships and the overall strategic planning process. In his nearly eight-year tenure at Beam Suntory, he had wide ranging experiences including senior roles in marketing, sales, finance and IT.

In his role at New Belgium, Fechheimer has been passionate about sustainability and recently decided to craft a new beer called Torched Earth to highlight how climate change threatens breweries.

The three main ingredients in beer are clean water, barley and hops, which are all threatened by climate change. Torched Earth is brewed with the smoke-tainted water from bushfire runoff. High-quality hops are replaced with climate-resilient dandelion root, and barley gets swapped for buckwheat. 

Fechheimer said the beer “tastes like eating a Band-Aid”. New Belgium doesn’t really want consumers to buy the drink, but to learn something from it.

It was an exercise in exploring the way brewers might have to make beer in the future, not how they want to make beer.

“We view climate change as an existential threat to New Belgium,” he told CBS News. “It’s a window into how terrible things are at a somewhat selfish level … that might be the least of our worries.”

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Categories: Business