David Williams, epicure, departs Warrnambool fight

Bega’s colourful investment banker has teased and tormented his rivals - but will enjoy some wine and cheese with one.

After more than three months of sparring with Saputo Inc and Murray Goulburn Co-operative Ltd, the departure of Bega Cheese Ltd’s adviser David Williams from the Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory Ltd takeover battlefield has been greeted with sighs of relief from his competitors.

During the Warrnambool tussle, Williams has been a colourful figure. The Kidder Williams Ltd founder has made fun of Saputo’s jet, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and characterised Murray Goulburn’s conditional bid for Warrnambool as an offer from “Casper the friendly ghost”.

Not content to just tease his rivals by making public statements questioning their strategy, Williams sent a block of cheese on which Bega’s original offer for Warrnambool was printed on its black wax cover to Lazard Ltd’s John Wylie, Murray Goulburn’s banker, as well as Rothschild’s Sam Prentice, Saputo’s adviser.

Now that Saputo looks set to acquire Warrnambool after Bega said it will sell its 18.8 per cent stake in Warrnambool to the Montreal-based company, Prentice says he will be happy to enjoy some Bega cheese and wine from the Rothschild cellar with Williams.

Williams’ hijinks mask a workaholic nature that drives him to the office on weekends and very little vacation time over Christmas and new year. Such relentlessness has produced a loyal clientele.

“He’ll work all hours of the day and night to make sure his client is successful,” says Bega’s chairman Barry Irvin, who first met Williams in the 1990s when Bega was a cooperative with 80 staff and annual sales of $80 million.

Bega is now a public company with sales of about $1 billion a year and 1,600 staff. Williams has been Irvin’s adviser for almost 15 years.

Such is the two men’s relationship is that both are unafraid to argue with each other. Williams often claims the mantle that “he’s never been wrong,” says Irvin. But Irvin says Williams has also has another side, being “generous and gentle” with the autism charity Giant Steps, of which Irvin is the chairman.

As befits a food-and-beverage dealmaker, Williams is an epicure. For more than 30 years Williams palate has been expanded and refined as he has travelled the world visiting the world’s finest vineyards, including Chateau Mouton Rothschild, and dining at Michelin three-star restaurants.

In November he flew to Vasse Felix to dine with Heston Blumenthal while a month earlier he was sipping Grange with the Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago after a morning drinking Krug and other vintage champagnes with his wife and friends.

“You gotta enjoy life,” Williams told DataRoom.

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