Will you stand for what you believe in, no matter the cost? (The Infamous Town Hall)

I know a couple of people who would have seen this post and seen this subject and thought “oh, no, André don’t!”

I had a really pivotal moment during my time as CEO at Vinomofo. 

It was about three years ago – remember the time when the first marriage equality plebiscite was being talked about? Not the one that went ahead, but the one before that, that got voted down in parliament, in 2016.

Anyway, we had just released a big tv ad we made. Great piece of storytelling, terrible piece of marketing. My bad. Very much my bad. But there was this one particular scene, and the narrator with his excellent Sean Bean voice was saying “will you stand up for what you believe in, no matter the cost” over that famous footage of Tank Man in Tiananmen Square from 1989. 

Well, that footage stirred up a bit of noise, and some of the team got a bit nervous about it.

So we held a Town Hall to talk about it. 

I remember feeling really surprised that this group of progressive, socially-conscious young people were concerned about such a thing, we weren’t even saying anything about Chinese politics, we were talking about standing up for what you believe in.

But someone put their hand up and asked what right we had as a retailer, a brand, to have an opinion on something like this. Shouldn’t we just stick to selling wine?

Well, I got a bit passionate, you’ll be surprised to hear, and I started talking about the fact that I felt that not only did we have a right, but we had an obligation, and that I wanted this to be a company that stood up proudly and loudly for what we believed in, and that this historic footage was the LEAST controversial thing we would weigh in on. 

I talked about the marriage equality plebiscite, and how we would be weighing in with a big, loud, bright YES, and if any of our customers didn’t like that, well then they could “get fucked” (!), and indeed if anybody in this room didn’t like that, then perhaps this wasn’t the place for them. Except that I was a bit fired up, and so it came out my mouth as “well then they can get fucked too.”

Well, you can imagine the response. 

Someone furious demanded to know if that meant that if they didn’t believe the way that I did, then they would be fired.

Of course I explained that wasn’t what I meant, but the damage had been done. This fear had rippled through the crowd and they became a mob, and it took me nearly a year to earn back the trust of even part of the team. 

I worked hard to earn back that trust, but for some, I think it never came back.

Interestingly, this was a time before brands started weighing in on social and political issues. Less than a year later, everyone from Coke to Foxtel were flying rainbow flags, but back then, it wasn’t done much. 

A year later, there we all were, a hundred people at Vinomofo, gathered in the morning for the marriage equality plebiscite that did happen in 2017, hands in mouths and tears in eyes as the YES vote came through. 

I knew I had been clumsy in the Town Hall with my language, but I couldn’t help but think – “this is what I was talking about! Why was everybody so upset?”

I also couldn’t help but admit, in that secret place inside me that wasn’t allowed to be expressed, “yes, if it weren’t for Fairwork Australia, I would love to fire anybody who didn’t believe as I do, with regards to marriage equality. I don’t want that in this culture. I want this to be a culture of love and inclusion.”

Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top