Diplomacy isn’t the first thing you think of when it comes to running a wine cellar. But for former South African envoy, Greg De’eb, it’s everything. From his initial lobbying of government officials for storage space to his daily dealings with stakeholders, savoir-faire has long been an integral part of his role at Crown Wine Cellars. The general manager of Asia’s largest cellar chats with Rick Gangwani.
How did you get involved in the wine storage business?
I was the acting head of mission here for the South African consulate, but was looking for a way to move to Hong Kong permanently. In June of 2000, I attended a talk by the TDC [Trade Development Council] about the possibility of Hong Kong becoming the wine-trading hub of Asia. Everyone in the audience thought it was a stupid idea.
The speakers mentioned that there were a number of old military buildings that could be used for storage, at which point some of the audience actually started laughing and walked out.
There were a couple of available sites that were interesting. One was Victoria Barracks, which the Asia Society took over, and the other was what eventually became our current
site in Shouson Hill.
In August 2003, I was talking to Jim Thompson, owner of [relocation and logistics concern] Crown Worldwide Group. He offered me the opportunity to start up a new division – Crown Wine Cellars – which I then went on to create, develop and run.
What was most challenging about moving into the private sector?
As a diplomat, I was given, let’s say, HK$20 million at the beginning of every year and told that if I didn’t spend it by the 31st of December, I would have my budget cut and be in big trouble.
Then, literally, overnight I arrived in a private business where I was given zero money and told that if I didn’t make HK$20 million by the end of the year, I would be in big trouble. That was probably the greatest challenge.
What does your day-to-day job involve?
My day-to-day work predominantly involves logistics work. We handle the biggest single collection of rare and fine wines in Asia, valued at more than a billion Hong Kong dollars. As general manager, I’m responsible for overseeing these assets, while also managing my staff and tend