Keeping it in the Family

6 May 2014

By Jamie Milne, UK Brand Ambassador

As many of you will know, on Christmas Day 2012, Glenfiddich celebrated an anniversary - 125 years to the day since the first spirit ran from the stills at the distillery, when William Grant and his family saw their dream become a reality. His descendants still own and manage our Distillery today.

When I mention the fact that we're a family business, I'm often asked how involved the family are. The answer is: “heavily”.  One works with us in the UK sales and marketing team on a daily basis, and it was well known among the 70+ ambassadors for our brands around the world that our Life President, Charles Grant Gordon, would read our monthly reports, looking for updates and insights, right up until he passed away in December last year.

But what does being family run mean for Glenfiddich?

I think it makes a difference in three important ways:

Making decisions and seizing opportunities to benefit the long-term success of the business, not the short-term needs of corporate shareholders

Taking extra care – of the whisky, how we make it, and the people who make it

Balancing tradition with innovation

Over the next few weeks, I’ll explore each of these to help you understand what it means for Glenfiddich to have been family run since 1887. This week:

Taking the Long Term View

Going right back to when William Grant was still dreaming of building his own distillery, every member of William’s family – his wife and nine children – contributed something to the project, whether financial or otherwise. His third son, James, won a university prize for Latin including £28 cash, all of which went into the distillery project fund. To put this in context, William, at the time, was employed as manager of another distillery and earning around £100 per year. So you can imagine the difference that this £28 made to the fund.

Another example comes from the years of Prohibition in America, when Grant Gordon (William Grant’s grandson) decided to increase production at a time when most other distillers were slowing down or even silent. This put us in the perfect position to take advantage of demand for fine, aged Scotch whiskies when Prohibition was repealed in 1933.

One of the greatest triumphs of this long-sightedness is the decision by Charles Grant Gordon and his brother, Sandy, to put Glenfiddich in a striking, green, triangular bottle and to launch Glenfiddich “Straight Malt” in 1963. Until then, only blended whisky brands and malt whisky bottled from single casks had been readily available, and very little of that malt whisky made it outside Scotland. 

It would certainly have been easier to continue to profit from the company’s already extensive range of blended whiskies, but the two brothers wanted to do something different, something that no-one else had done. Charles and Sandy’s foresightedness and determination made Glenfiddich Straight Malt the first internationally recognised brand of single malt Scotch whisky, and we remain number one today, over 50 years later.

Finally, taking a long-term view means that year upon year, we have laid down casks so that future generations can enjoy older, more exclusive expressions of our malt and today you can enjoy different expressions of Glenfiddich from 12 to 50 years old. Although finding a bottle of the 50 year old can be a challenge, even at £20,000 a bottle!

Check back in the coming weeks for the next post on what being family run means for Glenfiddich – Taking Extra Care.

Jamie Milne

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram: @GlenfiddichJM