The Oliver family business has survived for 6 generations. This is how they’ve done it.

Please enjoy the article published by ABC Life by – Grace Jennings-Edquist 19/10/20

Corrina and the Oliver family at Olivers Taranga vineyard
Corrina, her uncle Don and cousin Brioni at Oliver’s Taranga with the family’s youngest business associate.(Olivers Taranga Vineyards And Randy Larcombe/ ABC Life: Luke Tribe)

Corrina Wright grew up listening to her relatives discussing the family business at dinnertime.

“I remember trying to get a word in with my grandpa and my uncles when I was a kid, across the dinner table,” she says.

Decades later, she and her two cousins Brioni and Sam are the ones talking shop at family gatherings. They’re the sixth generation of the Oliver family to run the business, a 100-hectare vineyard and winery in McLaren Vale, South Australia.

Corrina says there are definite upsides to working in an intergenerational business. But experts say it takes good communication — and sometimes, external advice — to keep things ticking along smoothly.

Shared values go a long way

Corrina says shared values are one of many benefits of working in a family-run business.

“We work well together, we each have different strengths,” she says of her two cousins.

“Usually in a family business, you all have the same culture and the same value structure, which is really important in business.”

The three cousins share the Oliver family’s ideals of passion, integrity and continuous improvement — all drilled into them by the earlier generations.

“Being part of a family business that’s been quite innovative in its own way over the generations, that allows you to spread your wings,” Corrina says.

What work-life divide?

There’s also a certain amount of flexibility that comes with working alongside relatives.

When Corrina had to bring her 10-year-old son to work during coronavirus-related school restrictions, nobody batted an eyelid.

“It was harvest time when COVID hit, so I was teaching my son to drive a tractor,” she says. “He could come with me and just can be part of it.”

Corrina Wright in the family vineyard at Olivers Taranga
Corrina in the family vineyard.(Olivers Taranga Vineyards And Randy Larcombe)

The flipside to this blended work-family scenario? It can be difficult to draw clear boundaries between home and work when necessary. While the family often attempts to avoid business talk on Christmas Day, “that never happens”, Corrina says.

Changes of direction can bring benefits and tensions

Each generation has brought its own skills to the Oliver business — with Corrina, who studied winemaking in Adelaide and California, driving the vineyard’s expansion into winemaking.

“I added another string to our bow,” she says. Her generation has also ensured a strong focus on sustainability — a focus that many new-generation family business owners now share, according to Greg Griffith, chief executive officer of Family Business Australia.

“We have solar panels, we have a special machine that eats up all of our waste cardboard that we’ve packed and we’ve reused all of that,” Corrina says.

Sometimes, these kinds of directional change can cause tensions in a family business, says Mr Griffith.

“The current leaders, rightly, feel justified in the approach they have taken to the business, because they have been successful. And the next generation brings fresh eyes to the business, and, rightly, want to make their mark.”

Corrina Don and Briony sitting down
Corrina (right) with cousin Brioni (left) and uncle Don (centre). Corrina and Brioni and sixth-generation Oliver’s Taranga business people; Don is fifth-generation.(Olivers Taranga Vineyards And Randy Larcombe)

For the Oliver family, one big challenge arose when transitioning from a farming business, to a winery business that required marketing and branding.

“A couple of my uncles I think they thought if you weren’t sitting on tractor, it wasn’t real work,” says Corrina.

A shared work ethic and strong communication go a long way to smoothing any tensions, she says.

When external help is needed

One way to help keep communication strong is to seek external advice on legal matters, including succession planning.

An external family business adviser can help ensure everyone’s views are heard; manage emotions; and help the family come to decisions regarding the transition of the business to the next generation, Mr Griffith says.

Depending on the business, the technical expertise of external lawyers and accountants may also be required, he adds. Corrina’s family has taken on a handful of non-family experts over the years, including a sales and marketing specialist.

“We also ended up getting an independent chair for our board and he was fabulous, and was able to bring another perspective because he has experience in the food industry,” she says.

Pressure to take over

Tensions sometimes arise when a younger generation feels pressure to join a family business but wants to pursue other options, says Mr Griffith.

As a woman growing up in a family business that had always had men at the helm, Corrina never felt the weight of those expectations. “I think it was probably more of a surprise that I joined the business,” says Corrina.

With two kids of her own, she isn’t sure whether the family business will end up in the hands of a seventh generation.

“My older daughter is 18, and she tells me if she ends up a winemaker in McLaren Vale, she will have failed at life,” says Corrina. But her son shows more interest in continuing the family enterprise: “At the moment, he wants to keep driving tractors.”

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