Ian Curle on leading a whisky giant and what makes it work

Ian Curle

No one can argue that Ian Curle is not a whisky man through and through.  Joining the Edrington Group in the 1980s, he took the helm as chief executive in 2004 where he has overseen major acquisitions including a majority shareholding in Brugal & Co. and the acquisition of renowned whisky brand, Cutty Sark.  In addition, the group’s core products, including the world famous Macallan, have continued to grow and are recognised as some of the most desired brands in the world. His clear passion for the industry can be seen in the other roles he holds; notably as chairman of the North British Distillery and former chairman of the Scotch Whisky Association.

As a company owned by a private charitable trust with a long history and strong links to its founders and their ethos, Edrington is able to combine the extensive experience of its people with a flexibility of decision making to ensure its success is cemented for the future.

At our inaugural Leadership Conversation, Ian shared his thoughts on culture, leadership, and his own experiences as CEO at one of the country’s most impressive businesses.

What was clear from listening to Ian is that Edrington’s unique ownership structure has played a huge part in shaping the culture of the business and in turn, on Edrington’s proposition as an employer.  People are at the heart of the business, and Ian clearly sees his role as creating a supportive environment to allow great people to develop and deliver success.  The business supports the interests of its employees, giving 1% of pre-tax profits to support employees’ charitable activities, no matter how large or small.

We were lucky enough to be given an insight into Ian’s own approach to leadership, and whilst the finer details ,and more candid insights, are for those of us fortunate enough to have been in attendance, what is clear is that Ian believes  that his most important role is in setting an agenda that is clearly communicated and building the accompanying structure that will deliver, critically ensuring that the people within it are empowered to make their own decisions and praised for their success.

Ian outlined that his subtle approach, preferring guidance rather than interference, requires a very strong team of people that you can trust, and a culture where those people feel driven to follow the leadership team and replicate its desire to see the company succeed, whilst being rewarded and recognised for their efforts.

In his role as CEO, Ian values open communication – both the good and the bad – and surrounding himself with brilliant people to give guidance and whom he can collaborate with to get the job done.  He is clear that being an excellent leader doesn’t mean doing everything by yourself.

His closing quip encapsulates Ian’s own approach to his role and career; “have fun, enjoy what you’re doing and get lucky”.

At Livingston James, we appreciate the importance of creating a culture that inspires people, and recognise having the right people is essential to allow that to happen.  We pride ourselves in helping our clients attract the highest calibre talent who can lead their businesses to future success.

Ian Curle spoke at the Livingston James Leadership Conversations, a series of events aimed at bringing together aspirant CEOs with some of Scotland’s most inspiring and high achieving business leaders.  For more information on future events in the series, please contact [email protected]

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