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Diversification Is the Key

Diversification Is the Key

As Duncan Taylor Scotch Whisky celebrates its 80th anniversary, new general manager, Neil Miller, talks about the importance of transferring skills from one industry for success in another

At the beginning of 2014, Aberdeen was riding high with the UK oil and gas industry employing 440,000 people, much of them in the North East. By the end of 2016, over 100,000 had lost their jobs, with around 150 people being made redundant daily.

With official city statistics for the estimated population of Aberdeen city now 15% smaller than before the oil market crash, it has affected everyone from taxi drivers to the CEOs of oil industry giants.

However, Aberdeen is now riding the wave of a resurgence. Diversity has been the key where the likes of Opportunity North East (ONE), headed up by Sir Ian Wood, are leading an economic renaissance focusing on oil and gas, life sciences, tourism, food, drink and agriculture.

One company that is leading the charge is Duncan Taylor Scotch Whisky. The Huntly-based business, makers of Black Bull Whisky and a host of other award-winning whisky brands, is celebrating its 80th birthday this year.

It is doing it in some style, with sponsorship of a Lamborghini Huracán in Blancpain’s GT3 Series Endurance Cup with Barwell Motorsport in Europe. Seventeen-year old Sandy Mitchell from Forfar will be part of the young team, which will also include 20-year old Martin Kodric from Croatia and Michele Beretta, a 23-year old Italian.

Plus, in January, they were spirits sponsors of the 23rd Critics Choice Awards in Hollywood, where they rubbed shoulders with the likes of Gary Oldman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Mary J. Blige.

Chairman, Euan Shand, bought the company in 2001 and has built up a remarkable portfolio of rare, vintage and unusual aged casks of whisky, including 1969 Macallan. They recently launched 25 stunning decanters with the Macallan and, named ‘The Rarest’, it is housed in a crystal decanter with silver adornment. Only 25 are available worldwide.

Just as we were going to print with Business Now, the company had announced that they had picked up no less than seven top awards at the World Whisky Awards for a whole range of different whiskies within their portfolio – a major achievement for the north-east company and a real feather in their cap.

Neil Miller (pictured), general manager of Duncan Taylor Scotch Whisky, recently joined the business from the oil and gas sector and says about the process of making the transition: “It’s an industry that has always fascinated me. I worked for Diageo back in 2005 in a temporary role in the run-up to Christmas at their bottling hall in Leven. That was a good introduction to the spirits industry and, if I could have had a dream job, it would have been with a whisky company.

“I remembered once being gifted a Duncan Taylor whisky on an inaugural Eastern Airways flight with work back in 2008 and I can still remember it now. I researched their portfolio and found that their core brands of Black Bull and Octave were winning lots of awards, and that they held one of the largest private collections of rare scotch whisky casks in the world today. It seemed like a dream job.”

Before joining Duncan Taylor, Neil spent some time with Schlumberger in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, from 2009 until the end of 2014, initially as a health and safety manager for the Middle East and, subsequently, in operations management. In 2014 he took the opportunity to head back to Aberdeen with Baker Hughes. With the downturn, he was made redundant a year later.

With resistance from some potential employers – reluctant to employ people from the oil and gas sector, concerned that they would return to the sector with any recovery – Neil found the process of getting another job outwith the sector difficult. He persevered and got the breakthrough he needed when he saw the job on LinkedIn.

Neil continues: “I felt that my international experience would be good for the role of general manager. The whisky is sold in over 50 countries globally, with a big following in the US and China. When I applied, the CEO, Moji Shand, interviewed me and the rest, as they say, is history.”

He has found the experience so far with his new employer very rewarding, and he has been able to put to good use the experience gained working within oil and gas:

“I’ve got a small, knowledgeable team here at HQ in Huntly, with staff that have been with the company for a long time. Whilst there has been, and still is, a lot to learn about whisky, I’ve found it really interesting. With the expansion of the business in the US, China and Europe, I’ve found that my knowledge and skills have transposed really easily and it’s a great industry to be working in.”

All looks set for Duncan Taylor to continue to thrive well beyond its 80th anniversary. In the US alone, turnover has doubled. With Neil about to head off to Dubai to promote the company at a major event, he is flying the flag in a country, thanks to his previous job, he knows well. www.duncantaylor.com