Whyte & Mackay must be craving some stability of ownership

Whyte & Mackay must be craving some stability of ownership

It would seem, then, that Whyte & Mackay is poised to welcome yet another new owner in the months to come.

Today's announcement that Diageo has offered to sell off the Scotch whisky company – with the exception of its Dalmore and Tamnavulin distilleries – is clearly a move on Diageo's part to placate the competition concerns of the Office of Fair Trading here in the UK. The news won't placate Whyte & Mackay's choppy waters when it comes to its ownership, however.

The Scotch producer, which has only been known as Whyte & Mackay since 2003, has had a colourful history that has dominated the headlines in recent years. 

After becoming part of the Scottish & Universal Investments group in 1971, the firm saw its ownership switch to Lonrho in 1981 and and then to Brent Walker in 1988. American Brands, the forebear of Beam Inc's former parent company, Fortune Brands, bought it in 1990, then sold it to the firm's management in 2001 for GBP200m. This buyout, funded by German investment bank, WestLB, was followed in 2005 by a full buyout by then-CEO Vivian Imerman and his investment partner, Robert Tchenguiz.

Two years later, Imerman sold Whyte & Mackay to United Spirits, owned by The UB Group, for an impressive GBP595m (then US$1.18bn). But, since Diageo took majority control of United Spirits earlier this year, the writing has been on the wall for Whyte & Mackay.

It is a shame that the Glasgow-based group has not enjoyed a sustained period of calm – and it shows. The company spreads itself too thinly, in my opinion: From the mass-market, volume game played by its namesake blended Scotch brand, to its frankly incessant releases of über-premium expressions from The Dalmore, the firm clearly set out in the past to be all things to all men.

Whyte & Mackay, considered with affection by the majority of the Scotch industry, deserves time to focus on what it could be so good at, rather than worrying about who its father figure will be tomorrow.

That worry is set to continue for a while yet.