Memoirs Of A Whisky Salesman – Part 7

End of an Era

Memoirs Of A Whisky Salesman – Part 7

When Guinness ‘merged’ with the Distillers Company Limited (DCL) in 1987, United Distillers (UD) was formed from Bell’s (which had been acquired by Guinness in 1985) and the spirits business of the DCL.

The UD headquarters for the UK (UDUK) was at the former Bell’s offices at Cherrybank in Perth. As part of the integration process all the old DCL subsidiaries were closed down with many redundancies.

To many it seemed as if the UK sales business of Bell’s had emerged triumphant. However that didn’t really last for long. Diageo was formed in December 1997. Soon afterwards, in 1998, Cherrybank was closed. The UK HQ was relocated to the old International Distillers & Vintners (IDV)/Grand Metropolitan offices in Harlow.

To many it seemed as if in the UK sales business of IDV/Grand Met had emerged triumphant. However that didn’t really last for long either…

End Of An Era

My mentor, the late Peter Enright, was a great inspiration to me and was the main reason I stayed in the whisky business. Peter was employed by White Horse Distillers and had a fabulous job organising golf tournaments in the UK. He was also responsible for key prestige accounts in the West End of London.

Peter was a great friend to me, and I could always confide in him when times were tough. He taught me various techniques on how to sell in the five-star arena and the etiquette that was involved.

On one occasion, we were both at the White Horse offices of Ted Edwards, Managing Director. He asked if I wanted Peter’s job as Sales Manager of White Horse. Peter had obviously nominated me as his successor and I accepted without hesitation.

Then Edwards dropped a bombshell: ‘If Ernest Saunders of Guinness is successful in his bid to take over the DCL, I will be one of the first to go and the job will not exist.’

And that is exactly what happened.

I can honestly say that I had the best fun in the good old days, but just so you know, they were not always the good old days.

The McLaughlin’s sales force sold a million cases of Teacher’s then they made everyone redundant. I had long gone before then.

Nothing really has changed. Companies would always shoot the field salespeople in the back first. When Bell’s merged with DCL, it was a regular event every January inviting the sales force (including wives) to a dinner dance. This was referred to as ‘the last supper’.

The so called ‘merger’ with Guinness and Bells (it was not a merger, it felt like they had wiped the DCL people off the planet) produced some unsavoury characters. One in particular made our lives unbearable. He fell out with my managing director and told him that he would be replacing my boss when he was appointed the new managing director. He would make us all redundant and save him for last.

And that is exactly what did happen.

I had been promoted just before this nightmare took off. However, it was not for long. We were summoned one by one and made redundant by this tyrant – no one had a good word to say about him. The next day, I received a phone call from a Bell’s divisional manager who asked to meet me. I explained that he was too late as I had been made redundant.

His exact words were: ‘You’re not dead yet, kid.’

The Times newspaper headline 11 May 1987

I found myself reinstated after that meeting. The last man standing. Everyone else had gone.

Much later I learned that the tyrant had dug his own grave eventually and had disappeared himself. The damage however, had already been done. Good men with families and mortgages – gone. I even lost my best pal who was my best man. Mike also worked as a member of the DCL sales team. It wasn’t always champagne and roses, and I just wanted to tell you what life was really like when the chips were down. I haven’t spoken about it until now. It still angers me about the unnecessary waste of talent and experience of the DCL boys. All just to settle a schoolboy’s feud.

In the early days of UD, the new company (which I always referred to as the Kremlin) sent henchmen from Scotland to accompany salespeople at random. If they thought you weren’t up to the job, you disappeared. Some colleagues never returned. This was the darker side of our wonderful business, and the worst time for me. I survived about fifteen rounds of redundancies.

They were tough times, but the West End really saved me because it was a specialised job and it was difficult to find someone to fill my role with the same experience and little black book of contacts that I’d assiduously developed over the years.

Roger Mallindine received The Freedom of the City of London (the main picture shows Roger receiving The Freedom of the City of London with mentor David Irving and the beadle wearing a top hat) and The Freedom of Glasgow for services to the Scotch Whisky industry. He is a Lords Taverner and a Liveryman of The Worshipful Company of Distillers and a director of the Guild of Freemen of the City of London and Keeper of the Quaich.

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