What’s in a Name?
# **Modern Wine Group - What’s in a name?** We are The Modern Wine Club, by Modern Wine Group, and this is the story of our name. Our name sends a signal that we are a modern wine company for today’s world. A wine company that believes in disrupting the wine industry. A company that leverages private labels to wipe out the wine brand premium that you have been paying. A company that unleashes group buying “social commerce” to give you maximum volume discounts. A wine company guided by science and technology to leverage data in every possible way to improve the wine experience. While the wine industry rests on laurels from the past millennia, much like the automotive industry did before Tesla, we live in the present and have our eyes on shaping the future. My co-founder Matt Sutton likes to quote Jack Kerouac: "The only ones for me are the mad ones". And we are the mad underdogs of the wine industry. The outsiders who dare to do things differently. Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla is known for saying that it takes outsiders to shake things up – that those stuck in the establishment become to set in their ways and takes the paradigm for granted. Modern Wine Group is a company name that pays tribute to Jan Stenbeck, a Swedish industrialist, banker and entrepreneur that did more than most to shake up the Swedish establishment and to pioneer mobile communications and media innovation. This included founding Modern Times Group, a name that our holding company pays tribute to. Upon graduating from the Stockholm School of Economics in 1997, I moved to Luxembourg to join Jan Stenbeck's Millicom. It was the most crazy maverick job I could find, working for an eccentric Swedish billionaire who launched cellular networks around the world. Stenbeck himself had an office at his private bank, Banque Invik in Luxembourg town as well as offices at Skeppsbron in Stockholm and the entire 57th floor of the Citicorp building in New York. He had identical offices in all three locations, modeled after the office of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer. For a period of time, he also had a monthly subscription service for butterflies that came in a DHL box to be released into his offices - BaaS (Butterflies as a Service) quite simply. Stenbeck got his MBA from Harvard Business School and went to work for Morgan Stanley in New York, before returning to Sweden to take over his family holding company Kinnevik and transforming it into a modern day company. Stenbeck is seen below, in his New York office, sporting something of a Gordon Gecko look and old school workstations. This was not a Silicon Valley environment where you'd show up in jeans and a hoodie. I wore a suit and tie every day at work. Walking into the New York office on the 57th floor of the Citicorp building, shown above, was like walking straight into a John Grisham book. You exited the elevator and there was a giant marble star on the floor and a gigantic painting on the wall, a replica of the funeral procession for the Swedish King Karl XII having been killed in Norway. And there was no name or logo to show what company was located at the address. You had to be in the know about what was behind the doors. Now coming back to Millicom, a company that was originally founded in North Carolina and awarded one of the first three FCC cellular licenses. But the company soon shifted its focus to Europe. Millicom entered into a JV with Racal Technologies that went on to win one of the first licenses for mobile communications in the United Kingdom and rebranded to Vodafone. So Millicom was a founding 10% shareholder of Vodafone for leading the license bid work. In the early days of mobile communications you could win a license bid without much radio planning competence. In fact, what became Vodafone started in a planning office on top of a bakery in the English town Reading with the radio coverage of British cities being planned as Year 1 being equal to the diameter of a one-pence coin and Year 2 coverage being equal to a two-pence coin. Simple maps were printed and the radio coverage drawn by hand using the two coin sizes. Millicom also set-up China Telecom, the first company to launch cellular communications in China as well as being a founding shareholder in Microtel together with Pacific Telesis and British Aerospace. Microtel was acquired by Li Ka Shing's Hutchison Whampoa and was rebranded Orange. In addition, Millicom went heavily into emerging markets launching cellular operators in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe and in Asia. When I was at Millicom, there were at peak 30 live mobile networks in emerging markets (of which 13 were regional licenses in Russia). Though today, there are much less in Millicom as Jan Stenbeck had a private equity philosophy so any asset was for sale if the price was right and Millicom has been sold off piece by piece over the years. At various points in its history, Millicom operated in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Paraguay, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Colombia, Panama, Chad, DRC, Ghana, Rwanda, Tanzania, Senegal, Mauritius, Russia, Estonia, Lithuania, Moldova, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and the Philippines. The first company I ever served on the board of directors of was Sentel GSM, Millicom's cellular operator in Senegal, West Africa. The Millicom guys were the original gangsters of the mobile communications world and became the PayPal mafia equivalent of the telecoms world. Jan Stenbeck was a rather unpredictable person who liked to keep people on their toes. He could show up at any time and just take over someone's office so he could be found sitting in your seat, talking on his phone with his feet up on the table. I was transfered from Luxembourg to the London office and only 26 years old, I had my own office in Mayfair in London in Curzon Street's Leconfield House, the former home of the MI5, with Marco Pierre White's Mirabelle Restaurant across the street. From time to time Stenbeck would show up unannounced and just take over an office. And you would quietly tiptoe out not to risk enraging him. Much like a friend of mine, who as an early employee at Apple, would try for all that she was worth, not to ride the same elevator as Steve Jobs. Because the latter had a reputation for sometimes asking a random employee what he or she was working on, only to make an on-the-spot decision to fire the person. For all his brilliance, Stenbeck was a bit like that. He simply had quite a temper, Steve Jobs style. On several occasions, people would be fired, sometimes for things that they were not responsible for whatsoever but when he had made up his mind, the victim was toast. He hated the very idea of an HR department, annual evaluations and development plans. None of his companies had an HR department, only a Personnel Department handling contractual issues. No one should get any ideas around appraisals and development plans. You got outsized responsibly for your age. You were dropped in the ocean and some managed to swim and others drowned. That was the culture back in those days. The stories I can tell from Millicom are many and crazy. The "Mad Men" trailblazers of telecoms. Our Dutch expat CFO based in Smolensk Russia, went on a date with the governor's 16-year old daughter. And the governor put a contract on his head to have him killed so we needed to get him out fast. The Russian running the Rostov-on-Don operation got assaulted by thugs as he stepped out of his car to intimidate him. An Indian expat CFO received a death threat from the Chairman of the Omsk operation in Siberia. The latter was because I had discovered what looked like irregularities in the accounts and I sent the CFO in to discuss it with the Chairman. He was bluntly told: "In Russia, the line between life and death is very slim. So you should stop asking questions like that or I'll have you killed." So we took the CFO out of there and found a way at getting at the Chairman through the Head of our Moscow Operation named "Vlad". Vlad was a former KGB hotshot who had been based at the Soviet Embassy in Havana during the 1962 missile crisis as part of directing the Soviet response. His spy past had earnt him persona non-grata status in the United States as well as in every western European country apart from Austria. To manage the JV partners in the Russian regions, Vlad maintained a network of ex KGB officers to resolve issues on the ground with whatever means necessary. I must say that I met some interesting characters from the ex KGB. Articulate, cunning and speaking very good English. And Vlad kept a large selection of vodka in his Moscow office. Whenever there was the slightest win to celebrate, he would bring out the vodka and we had to gulp down 4 or 5 shots in the middle of the day, if we were unlucky right after breakfast. As Kerouac said: "The only ones for me are the mad ones." And it wasn't just the KGB, ex CIA officers were engaged for Latin America including a person who had played a key role in the Iran-Contra Affair. And we had a former Deputy Director of the Mossad on the team. Working at Millicom was like becoming a character in a John Grisham book with a twist from John Le Carré added for the spice factor. Of course, very few people in the field knew or experienced any of this. Stenbeck's media empire was organized under Modern Times Group including such companies as TV3, TV6, TV1000, Viasat and Metro operating in various European countries. Stenbeck was clearly a complex, and at times mercurial character. But he did much to shake up the Northern European media landscape and above all to pioneer mobile communications around the world. He was also a first-class connoisseur having two wooden yachts, one sailing and one motor yacht, that would spend the summer in St Tropez and the winter in the Caribbean. And he loved poussin with truffles and foie gras followed by a snack at night of mashed potatoes made from whipping cream, egg yolks and butter into which he would fold in a full kilo of Russian caviar. I wouldn't be surprised if he passed 15,000 calories on some days. He lived life to the fullest and some stories are not safe for work and simply too crazy to amuse you with here. But he has left a lasting legacy from the industries he shook up and the PayPal like mafia of people that got their formative years working in Millicom and Modern Times Group. And many remember him from the gestures he did like when he want up at 5 AM to drive one of my colleagues to the Luxembourg airport in his Ferrari and pyjamas so that he could catch an early flight to Stockholm. That's the world of Jack Kerouac for you: "The only ones for me are the mad ones"... by Andreas Birnik