Inspirational Women Series: Mary Hamilton

May 10, 2018


In an industry seemingly dominated by men, it is refreshing to see such a dynamic woman as Mary Hamilton at the helm of Hugh Hamilton Wines as CEO.


Mary is a 6th generation member of one of the families who planted some of the first vines in South Australia in 1837 and Hugh Hamilton Wines was founded by her father, who considered himself the "black sheep" of the family.  The nickname has developed into a symbol synonymous for the family's brand and wines. 


With a background in advertising, Mary has worked with brands including Penfolds, Huggies, Panadol and Guinness. She is fascinated by the human and emotional experiences that brands create and has channelled this fascination into Hugh Hamilton Wines through the Black Sheep Experience which customers can best enjoy through the Black Sheep Club, which Mary founded in 2003. 


Her dedication to building a brand tribe rather than a mere customer base has given Hugh Hamilton Wines the ability to stand out from the crowd in what has become quite a busy market place.  


Biz Gals: What is your greatest achievement?
Mary: The game of life often gets in the way of hearing yourself clearly – busyness, ego, daily grind. However if you’ve had children, it’s difficult to imagine that there could be anything more important than helping your kids to become happy, well-adjusted, ethical human beings with a strong family base to draw from. This experience also gives me so much and I must not take it for granted. It does strike me that this is far more important than any business challenge. 

When it comes to the relationship with myself, I look back and see a series of sliding doors which all represent decisions about which way I would go in life. Some of them have led me down dodgy corridors and some have been remarkable serendipitous roads to new places. I think that my greatest achievement has been to ultimately maintain an internal compass to guide me to my true north. I tend to be a late bloomer in most things, so this has been a life’s work to stay on course, I have to work at it every single day.     

Biz Gals: What is the greatest lesson you have learnt?
Mary: Without a personal foundation of being strong and clear about where you want to go in life, you end up like a little sail boat out in the middle of an expansive, sometime brutal, ocean being tossed about in the wind and waves, always at the mercy of a power beyond yourself. 

The great lesson is to take back your own power and accept the sometimes bitter pill, that everything you see in your life is your responsibility, despite the actions of others and your past. It is surely the most liberating lesson, because if you refuse to be a victim of circumstance then you get to choose what are you.    

Biz Gals: What is the best bit of advice you have been given?
Mary: At the end of my university days I had a good relationship with the Vice Chancellor of my university because I was the student president, so we got to know each other quite well. I asked him what the key was to working out what I do with my career. He said “do you want to be entrepreneurial or organisational?”. I had never considered work in that way before, so it was a new and practical way to think about my future choices. I didn’t know the answer to the question at the time, I started off in organisations, but now I know that I definitely of the entrepreneurial persuasion. 

Biz Gals: What or who inspires you?
Mary: People who make something of themselves by themselves, especially those that succeed despite shitty upbringings or other setbacks. People who stick their necks out for their beliefs even when they are highly unpopular. People who find the fortitude within themselves to keep going when it all looks lost. 

In my daily life I look to the sky to be inspired. That might sound strange but clouds and especially the moon and the stars do it for me. There is nothing quite so humbling as looking up to the vastness of the sky and recognising that you are just an insignificant blip in amongst it all. It certainly puts any moaning back into perspective. I love listening to people like Brian Cox who share with us all how our existence is just a lucky moment in time due to cosmic variables aligning.  

Biz Gals: What is your biggest hope for women in the future?
Mary: That men will be secure enough in themselves to no longer fear us so they can let the patriarchy go and just let us all be.

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