The Moodie Davitt Report brings you the latest instalment in our popular series Ten Easy Pieces*, in which we get up close and personal with leading travel retail personalities via ten snapshot questions.
In this edition we meet Ian Macleod Distillers Travel Retail Director Andy Lane, the ‘Brummie’ who has trail blazed the independent Scottish company’s path in travel retail.
1. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Newport, South Wales. My parents were from Birmingham and my father had been relocated to South Wales for work. When I was six weeks old the family moved back to Birmingham again. I like to think those six weeks were the most informative weeks of my life!
I am one of six children, with three brothers and two sisters.
We grew up in Erdington, a Birmingham suburb, where we were spoilt for company-owned sports grounds which had excellent football pitches. We were always getting chased off by various groundsmen who objected to non-members using their facilities.
I attended Marsh Hill Grammar Technical School, leaving at 17 years old to take a job in the transport industry. Four years later I joined Bowater Scott, the makers of Andrex toilet rolls, as a trainee sales person. My father always advised me to start at the bottom but I don’t think he thought I would take it quite so literally!
During my years at Bowater Scott I was promoted to their head office which is located in East Grinstead, West Sussex and I am still living in the south of England today.
2. Who was your role model as a teenager and young man?
My two older brothers were role models. Peter, the younger of the two, was a very good sportsman and rode a Royal Enfield motorbike which, at the time, I thought was very cool. Tony studied at university and moved to the USA to continue his studies before returning to the UK. He was the more studious of the two and is the one I still go to for advice.
“As a young man my passion was football and George Best was my hero”
I have always had a keen interest in most sports: football, rugby, golf, tennis, cricket, squash, chess and rallycross. But, as a young man, my passion was football and George Best was my hero. I tried to emulate him in many ways on the pitch, without, I’m sad to say, the same success. Unfortunately, Best was a Manchester United player and my team was, and still is today, Aston Villa!
However, my football career reached the dizzy heights of becoming a football referee. Today I am more likely to be seen on the tennis or pickleball court.
3. You joined Whyte & Mackay as UK Duty Free Sales Manager in 1987. What prompted your decision to move into the spirits industry?
I had been at Bowater Scott for eight years and felt the time was right for a move and I began looking round for a new challenge. I saw an advert for a duty free sales manager covering the UK and Eire for a whisky company. At the time I knew little about whisky and even less about the duty free industry. However, I knew my Dad liked Scotch and, to get into his good books, I thought why not apply for the position.
Since then I have worked in a number of companies in the drinks industry, including Whyte & Mackay, Jim Beam and latterly Ian Macleod. I’ve been lucky; differing roles over the years have enabled me to travel worldwide and observe, experience and enjoy many different cultures.
4. Your experience in the drinks channel now spans three decades. Two major changes over those years?
The first has to be the demise of the duty free industry in Europe in 1999 and the impact that had: the reduction in the number of people involved in duty free and the subsequent ‘birth’ of the travel retail industry.
Companies became more innovative and developed strategies to differentiate products, hence the travel retail-exclusive lines.
And who would have thought some 20 years later we would be on the threshold of seeing duty free come back to the UK?
The second change really relates to the whisky market. For a large part of my career Scotch whisky has played an important role but, for many of these years, there was an oversupply. Malt sales were growing but interest was still in its infancy. I never imagined sales would explode in the manner they did worldwide, with the USA, as the largest market, showing double-digit growth year-on-year which would lead to an industry-wide shortage.
5. Ian Macleod Distillers is described as “fiercely independent and family-owned”. How important is that in today’s market?
I have worked for both international businesses, which account to their shareholders, and a family-owned business which accounts to itself. I have learnt they are, and can be, very different in their approach.
One can have a more short-term view answering to shareholders where profit forecast must be achieved each financial year. To achieve this sometimes short-term decisions will be made to the detriment of the long-term business plan.
Family companies can take the longer-term view; make decisions which will affect short term profitability but long term potentially generate greater growth and profit.
The Russell family have built the reputation of Ian Macleod Distillers over three generations of ownership and its business personality reflects that of its current Chairman, Peter Russell, and his son Leonard, the Managing Director.
When Leonard asked me to set up the travel retail business for Ian Macleod ten years ago, his father happened to be in the office. Leonard told his father that he had offered me the job and that I had accepted the position. Peter’s response was: “That’s excellent news; let’s open a bottle of Champagne.” Which they did, I’m pleased to say!
Ian Macleod Distillers is an independent family-owned company. It was established in 1933 and, as it says, is “Still Scottish – Still Independent”. In ten years I have seen a business which has gone from strength to strength. It has made decisions at critical times which have led to a stronger overall business and being able to compete in a market dominated today by global companies.
Do I think family-owned businesses have an extra attraction now that consumers are seeking ‘craft’ products? In some cases yes, however this can depend on the market and the type of product being sold. Consumers are becoming more knowledgeable; they want to know more about the products they are drinking, how they are made, the ingredients and history. It is one of the reasons why craft beers and spirits, malt whisky in particular, are becoming more popular.
6. Your views on customer service in travel retail. What makes Ian Macleod “distinctly different to deal with”?
Customer service is something Ian Macleod holds very close to its heart and, with a small dedicated duty free team, we endeavour to uphold these values as it is something which can set us apart from our competitors and can give us that vital edge.
I believe the company understands the inherent subjectiveness of its traditions and family values, and the innate need to not only sell its products but to respect the customer. It knows and recognises that the customer is at the heart of its business.
Social media is playing an increasingly important role. Ian Macleod recognised its importance some years ago and has people with the required skills to ensure the company stays one step ahead. And, like most companies, Ian Macleod uses social media to share and facilitate the creation of ideas via communities and the varying networks.
More importantly, however, it values face-to-face contact with the customer hence its focus is person centred.
7. One stand-out moment in your career?
One moment or many moments; which to choose? Is it the walk on the Great Wall of China, or the solemnity of seeing Tiananmen Square, or looking out from the infinity pool on the top of the Marina Bay Sands, soaking up the sights of Singapore?
Is it visiting the Taj Mahal with colleagues, visiting the Vatican City, or being picked up from your hotel in a two-man helicopter and flying to a small island in the South West Pacific for lunch?
Or is it visiting, with some trepidation, the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea, enjoying England winning the Rugby World Cup in Australia, watching some of the greatest golfers in the world ply their craft or having a pint of Guinness in Dublin?
Or could it be running a collective marathon with colleagues for charity, or feeling humbled by sights in countries where poverty overwhelms you?
Or is that one stand-out moment actually many moments getting to know the customers who made all this possible?
8. What are your favourite business and holiday destinations and why?
This is a question I am often asked and find difficult to answer because it is always down to the people that make the place. I have been fortunate to take my family to some of the destinations I have travelled to on business but there are many left to visit, like India, Japan, Hong Kong and Vietnam.
If I had to name a top business destination it would be Japan because I love the Japanese culture and food.
And holiday destination? Well I have just returned from Funchal in Madeira. It was our first visit and the locals were so friendly. I was surprised to find that much of the fruit is locally grown and there are incredibly 18 types of passion fruit. The food and local wines were good and not expensive and the flora and fauna were incredible even in February when temperatures are on the low side.
9. Like many in the travel retail industry you are a big sports fan. What are you ‘into’ at the moment?
Well, I’m really hooked on darts at the moment, partly due to the amazing atmosphere at championship events. I was really disappointed to see ‘Phil the Power’ Taylor hang up his arrows although the new champion Rob Cross resides not far from me in Hastings.
A new sport which I have taken up is pickleball. This combines elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis. I think the game originated in the USA; it’s played in singles and doubles, on a badminton-size court either in or outdoors. It’s good fun, fast-paced and helps with the fitness.
10. ‘Me time’, away from travel retail, away from work: what’s your favourite tipple?
When I am down the pub I like a good pint of Harvey’s which is a local brew, brewed in Sussex. A gin and tonic has certainly become a recent favourite, made of course using Edinburgh Gin. In the summer months I like a pastis, and I do like, on the odd occasion, a good drop of blended Scotch whisky!
Being a ‘Brummie’, when I eat out I can’t resist a good curry and that, of course, has to be washed down with a pint of Cobra beer.
*PREVIOUSLY FEATURED TEN EASY PIECES PERSONALITIES INCLUDE: