What is it your company does, and what makes it special?
We distil whisky and gin on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. We are the first ‘social distillery’, created with the aim of providing long-term employment and economic regeneration to the islands.
How do you feel your business is ‘representative’ of Scotland?
We represent a very special part of Scotland, where a traditional way of life still exists, where the Gaelic language is spoken and there is a strong sense of community. Our business reflects this through our Social Distillery ethos, where we seek to nurture belonging through sharing our story and exemplifying real Outer Hebridean hospitality. Our spirits also seek to embody this corner of the country, expressing the Harris identity through packaging design, our local botanical Sugar Kelp, and a direct approach to market with a focus on personal connection.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
I think of myself as the custodian of our Founder’s vision. My role is to develop a great team of local people who can take the project forward in time and enable the next generation of Hearachs to succeed them. I am also driving the creation of strong brands of whisky and gin, establishing them in global markets in a way that leads to sustainable growth. As MD, I am also responsible for governance, managing risks, developing relationships with our stakeholders, on and off the island and for working closely with the Board.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you progress?
After studying languages I did a brief spell in retailing with M&S. Looking for international opportunities and to develop my love of whisky (!) I joined Johnnie Walker in the mid ‘80s responsible for sales in southern Europe. I spent a few years in Switzerland managing a portfolio of spirits brands and then moved to Edinburgh in 1993 as European Sales Director for Glenmorangie. I ended up running the global sales & marketing team and spent 15 very happy years there. It was while I was doing some freelance consulting in 2011 that the Isle of Harris project was brought to my attention. 8 years later, we have taken it from a concept to a thriving business employing nearly 40 locals.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
5 years from now I expect our gin to be available in the best places around the world. We will have launched our single malt, The Hearach in international markets, hopefully to critical acclaim. The team will have grown further still and young people will be looking at the distillery as a means of staying on the island to work.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
The leader’s role is to create a clear vision and direction for the team and to ensure they buy into it: ‘The Why’. A good leader engages with the team to turn the vision into reality: ‘The What’ and ‘The How’. They spend time getting to know their team and developing their talents to the full. One mark of a great leader is how well the organisation runs when they are not there. There are many more factors of course- these are just a few examples.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
This is my first role as MD. I come from a commercial background so have little experience of production or management systems. At the same time, our first three years have far exceeded all our expectations and with that come growing pains, albeit these are high class problems! So it’s been a steep learning curve but I am passionate about life-long learning, so have relished the challenge.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I try to safeguard weekends and holidays and devote time to the family. Riding the hills of Harris on my Enfield is also a great way to clear the head.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Find a mentor. Have someone you trust and respect to bounce ideas and issues off.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
To stop doubting myself so much and to trust my instincts more.
How and why did you become involved in Scotland House?
I heard about it as it was being set up. I thought it was such a great idea to have a London base. We were one of the first members and I think we held the first event there when we did a London PR launch for our gin.
How has your Scotland House membership enhanced your business?
It has raised the profile of our business in the capital through exposing our gin on numerous occasions at events hosted by Scotland House. It has also helped us meet new connections and provided a meeting place with a great location.
Describe the three biggest benefits of being a member.
Raising your profile. Great meeting space. Forming new connections.
What would you say to a Scottish business considering membership?
If you have aspirations to grow your business in London or just believe that a new network of influencers could be beneficial and if you need a prestigious location to host an event of hold meetings, Scotland House membership could be for you.