John Macphail, businessman

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Born: 14 October, 1923, in Singapore

Died: 10 June, 2004, in Perthshire, aged 80

JOHN Macphail was one of the most inspirational and influential figures in the Scotch whisky industry, in which he worked for 44 years. He retired in 1993 as chairman of Robertson & Baxter, better known today as the Edrington Group, makers of the Famous Grouse and the Macallan. He also had a long association with the Cutty Sark brand.

Mr Macphail was born in Singapore, where his Scots father worked as a stockbroker, before moving to South Africa for his early education. He moved to Edinburgh in 1932 and was educated at the Edinburgh Academy. He was a talented rugby player, captaining the school XV in 1940-41 and the Edinburgh Accies in 1948-49. He went on to represent Scotland at hooker and also played for the Barbarians. He shot for the school eight at Bisley.

During the Second World War he served with the RAF, mainly in Aden Communication Flight.

Post-war, he qualified as a chartered accountant and entered the whisky industry in 1949, becoming a director of Arthur Bell & Sons, based in Perth. He left Bell’s in 1962 to become an executive director of Robertson & Baxter and Highland Distilleries. During a distinguished business career he held various senior positions, notably the chairmanships of Highland Distilleries, Robertson & Baxter, North British Distillery, Clyde Bonding Co and the Robertson Trust.

He was chairman of Highland Distilleries when it fought off a hostile take-over bid by Hiram Walker in 1979 and was one of the founder directors of the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre, in Edinburgh, serving as its first chairman from 1987 to 1994.

He became a member of the Council of the Scotch Whisky Association in 1964 and its chairman in 1983, also being made the first grand master of the Keepers of the Quaich.

On industry issues his focused approach made him a formidable force when campaigning - in particular on the harmonisation of UK excise duties. Such was his commitment that he was not afraid to court controversy at times if that would further the cause.

Ian Good, the chairman of the Edrington Group, said Mr Macphail had been a truly inspirational leader of both Robertson & Baxter and Highland Distilleries.

"His breadth of vision, dedication to quality and capacity for forward-thinking made him a natural leader whose depth of integrity earned total respect from those around him," he said. "That formidable business acumen and meticulous attention to detail were reflected in his confidence to grow the brands in his charge, in particular the Famous Grouse. This tenacity was matched by his keen interest in company employees, invariably taking the time to pen a handwritten note to individuals when merited."

John Macphail is survived by his wife, Edith, daughter Copper, son Michael, two grandchildren and a great grandchild.