Sport and business have never been too far apart throughout Simon Towns’ life. His father, Kevin Towns, coached the women’s and men’s Black Sticks hockey teams, so it was only fitting that the younger Towns would follow into the family business. Hockey took him to two Commonwealth Games, winning silver at Manchester in 2002, and to the Olympic Games in 1992 and as captain at Athens Summer Olympics in 2004.
However, it’s not just hockey that has taken him around the world. After graduating from the University of Auckland with a BA/BCom in Economics and Finance he entered into the ASB graduate program. From there he went to London to work in investment banking and further his hockey career before finding employment with the Boston Consulting Group. It was here, in his consulting role, that he found his way to wine.
“I’d always had some level of interest in it so it was fortuitous that I ended up in the industry,” he said, noting that he took a number of trips out to wineries during his university days. “I can relate to the product.”
Towns worked his way to the role of managing director at Mumm Napa, overseeing all aspects of the business. He first entered the Constellation group as part of SVP Strategy and Development in San Francisco. He was promoted to managing director of Constellation Brands New Zealand in May 2016.
His time in the industry has seen him work with different people at different levels of qualification and at different stages of their careers, meaning he has to adopt a broad management strategy. “You have to get them to trust you, to know that what you’re saying is honestly what you believe,” he said. “You have to encourage them to further their own careers – it might not be with us, but I love to see them be successful somewhere else. They might come back to work for me, they might not.” He loves to win (a competitive streak fostered throughout his childhood), but believes in winning fair on an even playing field. “I like to set high expectations, something we can achieve as a team.”
While Towns took time to think of a career highlight, his career lowlight was etched deep in his memory, and again, it all came back to sport. Mumm Napa was the official wine of one of New Zealand’s most tragic sporting campaigns – the 2013 America’s Cup in San Francisco. As a company higher-up, it was Towns who had to be on hand to pass over the celebratory bottle to the winner. For two long weeks, Towns was in the Golden City, slowly watching Team New Zealand blow a 7-1 lead, and in the end it wasn’t Dean Barker but brash Australian Jimmy Spithill on the receiving end of the Mumm Napa jeroboam.
However, his career highlight still comes from his time at Mumm Napa, and the growth of the brand he was able to achieve in the American market. It was also at Mumm that he received what he describes as his best compliment, from a warehouse worker who approached him at Towns’ leaving party. “He came up to me and said that I was the only boss who had ever treated him as an equal. It showed me that I’d managed to build relationships across the organisation, and that was really special to me.” A personal highlight was finally competing at the Olympics – “Aside from becoming a father, of course.”
Finding a work-life balance is important for the young Towns family, as is knowing how to switch off. He has taken up voluntary hockey coaching at his old club, easing himself into a routine as he readjusts to the New Zealand life. His wife, a lawyer currently studying for an MBA, is an avid skier and has brought Towns into the fold, although he admits that he prefers the snowboard. Further to work and hockey, keenness on recreational travel has taken him to the far reaches of the earth. He spent six months in South America (including two weeks “stuck in Cusco”) and would head back there in a heartbeat – “The people, the culture, the history. It’s just a fantastic place to be.”
For now, Towns and his wife are keen to stay put. The pair has lived, by Towns’ estimation, in eight different houses in six different cities over the past ten years and now, with the relatively recent arrival of their son, it’s about time to slow down. That is not to say, though, that they won’t take the chances when they can.
“I have a trip to Canada coming up, so we’ll tack a few days on and try get to the snow!”