The Big Interview: The Glenmorangie Company president and CEO Thomas Moradpour

Thomas Moradpour is the president and chief executive of The Glenmorangie Company – which since 2004 has been part of luxury consumer goods group Moët Hennessy-Louis Vuitton, known as LVMH.

The Frenchman was appointed to the role in 2018, and oversees the company’s eponymous and Ardbeg whiskies. He was previously international marketing director at Hennessy, with previous spells on his CV including marketing roles at L'Oréal, PepsiCo and Carlsberg Group.

Glenmorangie dates back to 1843, when farmer William Matheson and his wife Anne “followed their dreams” and founded the distillery – in Tain – where it remains to this day, saying its copper stills are the tallest in Scotland at more than five metres. In 1997 it bought the Ardbeg Distillery, which was founded in 1815 – saying it saved it from extinction.

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You have been in your role since 2018 – can you explain what your responsibilities and aims are?

Mr Moradpour says the single malt category is 'robust and has demonstrated strong resilience over the last year'. Picture: John Paul.

I have responsibility for leading The Glenmorangie Company, helping our brands, business and teams achieve a fast growth trajectory.

My aim is to make the company one of the best employers in Scotland while we grow demand for our single malt whiskies Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, expand our distilleries and ensure we have a robust, growing business that is sustainable for the long term.

What steps has The Glenmorangie Company taken to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic?

The safety and welfare of the team is my first priority. And we’ve delivered many initiatives over the past 12 months as we realised that we would be living with the Covid-19 crisis for a considerable time.

Glenmorangie's distillery in Tain claims to have the tallest copper stills in Scotland. Picture: Carol Sachs.

The first thing we did was to send all office staff to work from home and temporarily closed our distilleries, our bottling plant and our brand homes, while we reviewed our procedures and prepared for a new, safe way of working for our teams. Once we had the necessary equipment and procedures in place to be able to safely restart, we did so.

Some of our sites, such as Glenmorangie House, had to close for long periods over the past year. We used this time to undertake a complete renovation.

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As a business we already had all the tools in place to enable home working for office roles. What we learned through the past 12 months is that a capable and trusted team can do its job brilliantly without ever being in the office – all key projects were completed, and our 2020 budget was achieved.

But you also have to be aware of the impact that isolation and lack of in-person interaction can have on team dynamics and mental health. To mitigate that, we initiated a broad set of programmes including weekly all company townhalls hosted by myself. Other initiatives included virtual yoga sessions, company pub quizzes and cook-alongs, and we created a buddy scheme to foster interactions across all company levels and functions.

Ever aware of the challenges of working parents we also adopted a very flexible working policy to enable parents to cope with juggling home schooling and work.

The group earlier this year announced key senior promotions at Glenmorangie and Ardbeg – how will this help grow the brands, and can you explain more about such expansion plans?

One of those promoted was Ellie Goss, who leads our teams on Islay and Tain in delivering experiences at Ardbeg and Glenmorangie distilleries and at Glenmorangie House. While these were closed for the last few months, the teams found ways to offer experiences to visitors that were both in line with government guidance and appealing to guests.

With our head of distilling and whisky-creation Dr Bill Lumsden, new whiskies have been conceived to appeal to a new generation of drinkers. One example of this innovative approach is X by Glenmorangie, our first whisky created in collaboration with top bartenders, specifically to be mixed.

Can you give any update on your plans to build warehouses and other facilities near Fearn? And how, more broadly, are you investing in local communities?

The Fearn warehousing development is a proposal for us to expand our warehousing capability to enable increased production over the next decade. We will, as we do with all our activities, be taking a sustainable approach to this new development. This includes considering opportunities such as developing the local coastal path, as well as enhancing the local environment through the planting of indigenous flora and fauna.

We take our responsibility and engagement with local communities in the Highlands and on Islay very seriously. We have been part of these communities for generations and will remain there making a positive contribution. Wherever we can we lend support, and work with local organisations on projects that enhance our communities.

In that spirit, one of Ellie Goss’ top priorities is overseeing pioneering sustainability initiatives. These include the re-introduction of oysters to the Dornoch Firth to enhance water quality and biodiversity; the funding of an archaeological research project into the foundations of Scotland as a nation with National Museums Scotland (this is inspired by the discovery of the Hilton of Cadboll Stone, an eighth-century Pictish carved standing stone, very near to Glenmorangie House) and on South Islay, supporting the community with the creation of a community hub in Port Ellen, close to the Ardbeg Distillery.

What is your view on measures to help responsible drinking – and the growing number of both consumers seeking out alcohol-free drinks and no- or low-alcohol “spirits” coming on to the market?

As a distiller it is our responsibility to support and actively promote responsible drinking, and we make sure that we do this on all our promotions, communication channels and whiskies. We also promote responsible drinking with our employees, through regular communications and programmes.

We see a clear consumer trend towards mindful drinking – which many define as drinking less but better. To many people it will mean no alcohol on certain occasions; to most people it means thinking more about the quantity and the quality of the beverages they chose to enjoy.

Winners will be brands that offer the best possible quality, and the best choice of drinks and experiences including low-alcohol – which you will see, for instance, in the range of recipe options we will promote with X by Glenmorangie.

The group has been highlighting family-friendly benefits for staff – and it is “reimagining” the role of the office. Can you give more details on this?

We evolved our family-leave policy in February, taking into account best practice across the EU and Scotland’s business community, to support all parents welcoming a new addition to their family. I know that being a new parent is extremely rewarding and comes with challenges. As a company, I want us to be there for parents when they may need us most.

We’ve increased the amount of paid leave offered to all new parents; with all staff having access to the same length of paid family leave, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. If their baby is born prematurely, we are protecting their pay and leave to ensure that they have the same as they would have done if their baby had been full term. As a key employer in Scotland we believe this newly updated policy is critical in establishing true gender equality.

We have also reimagined the role of our office as a place for sociability and creativity, best used for working in collaboration with others rather than on your own. This is a place for all the things you simply couldn’t do as well from home. And we have used the opportunity of the last few months to make a meaningful transformation to our headquarters in Edinburgh.

Our aim is to be one of Scotland’s best employers that is able to retain and attract a diverse and fully inclusive workforce.

Your colleague Dr Lumsden was recently asked what his last dram on earth would be – what would you choose?

If I had to choose only one, I’d take an Ardbeg TEN, and might enjoy it neat… or in my favourite whisky cocktail, the Ardbeg Sour.

You’re a member of the Scotch Whisky Association council – which in February noted that global exports of the spirit fell by more than £1.1 billion during 2020, the lowest in a decade, due in part to Covid-19. What is your view of what 2021 holds both for The Glenmorangie Company and the broader industry, including the impact of Brexit?

We have not experienced much supply chain disruption from Brexit but there is no doubt that Covid has had an impact on global wine and spirit sales – affecting in particular the global travel business, hospitality and on trade. However, the single malt category is robust and has demonstrated strong resilience over the last year – notably through the development of home and online sales.

Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, both with new marketing platforms and exciting innovations, are seeing strong growth so far this year across all our key markets, which I believe will continue.

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