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Ian Harris CEO of the WSET on Global Growth and China

This show was published 23 July 2021


Ian Harris is CEO of the WSET. He joined in 2002 after starting his wine career at Waverley Vintners and Seagram and is going to be retiring from the WSET in May 2022. Over the 20 year period at the WSET, Ian has lots to be proud of. Student numbers have grown tenfold and they have enjoyed huge expansion globally. In 2002, students were 75% UK based and 25% international. Now the tables have turned completely and it is 17% UK and 83% from overseas.

Ian tells us how the WSET followed a deliberate strategy to grow the business globally. The USA is now their biggest market by far and in 2017 they set up a subsidiary business WSET Americas Inc run by David Rudman in Connecticut. There is a WSET team of 14 dotted around the states with a network of providers (APPs) as in other markets but the exams are still managed out of the London office. They also have one other subsidiary located in Hong Kong serving the Asia-Pacific market.

In mainland China, (which had become their no. 1 market), they had to suspend all of their courses and exams on the 29th January 2021 due to a Chinese law they inadvertently fell foul of which meant in effect they were operating illegally. The news story died down very quickly and the PR coverage and social media was actually very positive. They put together a Chinese Action Team (and a small office in mainland China) and engaged a law firm to work with Chinese authorities and hope to get the courses up and running again by Christmas 2021. The ban has affected around 10,000 students in China but the Asia-Pacific markets are still operating and growing, gaining another 5,000 students in these markets.


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