Interview

just a Moment With ... Chris Mason from William Grant & Sons

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In this week's quick-fire interview, we talk to Chris Mason, the MD of William Grant & Sons' operations in the UK, Australia, New Zealand & Canada.

Chris Mason, MD of William Grant & Sons operations in the UK, Australia, New Zealand & Canada, has worked in the drinks industry for 40 years

Chris Mason, MD of William Grant & Sons' operations in the UK, Australia, New Zealand & Canada, has worked in the drinks industry for 40 years

  • How long have you been working in the drinks industry?

Chris Mason: I've been in the industry for 40 years, including roles as VP of European Duty Free for Allied Domecq and CEO of World Brands Duty Free with Pernod Ricard. I'm currently responsible for leading the Developed Anglo Markets (UK, Australia, New Zealand & Canada) as MD for William Grant & Sons.

  • Who was your mentor when you started? What did they teach you?

CM: My first great mentor was Phil Cushway who was the MD of United Rum Merchants, which was part of Allied Domeq. He taught me the importance of P&L management and understanding the critical role that customers play in helping to build brands.

  • How has the industry changed during your time in it?

CM: The main change is the concentration of the grocery sector in the UK into a handful of major players who have such a great influence in the take-home market. There has been a huge change in the on-trade too, as the influence of the top five brewers decreased. The result has been an opening up of the on-trade and greater choice for the consumer.

There's also been a change in our purchasing habits and the real emphasis on value for money, as well as the impact the digital world has had on everything from the way we interact with brands, to how we share with peers and how we purchase. More than ever, we need to invest in understanding what drives consumer behaviour.

This is also the case in other developed markets, where consumers have become more knowledgeable and are able to differentiate one brand from another in a category. Hence, close interaction with consumers is critical as our customers crave knowledge and brands with heritage.

  • What do you like most/least about your job?

CM: I like that there are so many different touch points between the UK and other global markets – similarities where you can take best practice from one to the other. On the other hand, I enjoy the diversity, the challenges and new opportunities we can carve out.

This is an industry full of like-minded people, people who tend to enjoy the company of others and share a passion for quality. I love the camaraderie and value the friendships I have built over the years.

There are not too many dislikes, otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed in the industry this long. Although, as a people person, I wish I could rely less on email and spend more time with people.

  • What are the main challenges facing the industry today? How would you combat them?

CM: One of the biggest challenges is maintaining a balance between developing quality brands that people love and which have a place in our social lives, while uniting as an industry, working together with trade bodies and governments to combat harmful drinking.

  • What do you think has been the most exciting innovation in the industry?

CM: As a lover of gin, the way the gin market has revolutionised in the last five to ten years has been really fascinating. Cucumbers are not just for salads!

I also liked the widget in cans of beer that carbonated the beer when opened, launched in the late 80’s – it really changed how much I enjoyed a beer on the coach home after playing a game of rugby!

  • Which drinks company (apart from the one you are employed by) do you most admire?

CM: I admire many family-owned/run companies such as Illva Saronno, such businesses have stood the test of time; the successful ones have a number of figureheads who bring their company and their brands to life.

I also admire the micro-brewers and micro-distillers – their entrepreneurial spirit to create and innovate is great, and I am interested to see which ones will stand the test of time.

  • Who or what has been the greatest influence on your career in the industry?

CM: The greatest influence was a chap called Joe Beeston OBE (for services to the water industry). He was MD of URM and I admired him for his ability to recognise that each person has a unique set of strength and needs - he treated everyone with great respect and was a great leader. I learned from him that great business and leadership starts with people to achieve their ambitions/potential and motivating them is vital to the success of a business. i.e. ‘You can if you think you can!’

  • What's your favourite drink?

CM: Glenfiddich 15 Year Old

  • And your favourite drink that is not in your company's portfolio?

CM: A Negroni cocktail!

  • What has been the most peculiar situation that your job has put you in?

I was once entertaining some customers at Brocket Hall – we were out on the lake in a rowing boat when we hit something in the water and the boat overturned, along with the customers (and some of their wives). They all had to swim ashore and then drag me out of the lake – we all had to return to the magnificent hall for dinner soaking wet and covered in pondweed!

  • Where do you see yourself in ten years time?

CM: Taking it easy and enjoying a Glenfiddich 15 Year Old (and a Negroni) with my friends and family.


Sectors: Spirits

Companies: Allied Domecq, Pernod Ricard

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