Obituary: Chris Greig, businessman whose foresight aided the expansion and modernisation of the Scotch whisky industry

Chris Greig's foresight aided the expansion and modernisation of the Scotch whisky industry
Chris Greig's foresight aided the expansion and modernisation of the Scotch whisky industry
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Born: 1935 in Dundee. Died: 8 February, 2012, in Ormiston in East Lothian, aged 77

Chris Grieg was one of the most influential and far-sighted businessmen in Scotland and contributed considerably to the expansion and modernisation of the Scotch whisky industry. He was involved with many leading Scottish companies and, as non-executive chairman of the Dunbar brewer Belhaven, brought it to the stock market.

Previously Greig had expanded the grain distillery on the Cromarty Firth of Invergordon Distillers Ltd (IDL) and, in 1966, opened its malt distillery at Tamnavulin-Glenlivet. Such shrewd commercial moves were typical of Greig’s forward thinking; throughout his career he demonstrated much commercial enterprise, initiative and drive.

Alan Rutherford, a former director of United Distillers, was a friend and, at times, a colleague of Greig’s for more than 40 years. He told The Scotsman yesterday: “Chris had a lifelong involvement in, and love of, the Scotch whisky industry and was much liked and respected by both colleagues and competitors. He was a tremendous listener and learner. Chris always had time for people: he was a great help to many friends and involved himself quietly in many worthy projects.”

Christopher Greig read bio-chemistry at St Andrews University from 1953-57 and then did his doctorate in London. He did not want to continue in academic research and, as he explained: “I wanted to get back to Scotland. So I answered an advertisement from the Distillers Company, who wanted someone to join their research department.”

In 1960 Greig started working for the Distillers Company in Stirling, under Dr Magnus Pyke, the television personality, who was then head of Distillers research.

Greig hankered after a more challenging life and was keen to get into the production and marketing side of the whisky business.

He joined IDL and spearheaded its expansion, forming a tie-up with Lord Rayne’s London Merchant Securities (LMS). In 1965 IDL got a stock market quotation with 74 per cent of its equity being held by LMS.

In 1984 IDL acquired Glayva liqueur and the following year Greig made the significant purchase from Scottish & Newcastle of the famous Scotch family company, Charles Mackinlay.

Greig, throughout these years, concentrated much of his energies on expanding sales overseas, especially the popular Isle of Jura brand. He had the foresight to forge contacts in Russia. Marketing strategy was an aspect of commercial life that suited this calm but determined man. His acute mind was open to marketing innovations and new production methods.

In 1983 Greig was appointed managing director of IDL and led a management buyout of the company arranged with the Bank of Scotland and a syndicate led by the Fleming Mercantile Investment.

This was followed by a stock exchange flotation in 1990 and later that year Greig had to contend with a hostile takeover from Dalmore, Whyte and McKay. With typical tenacity, he strenuously fought off the bid but Dalmore returned with a higher bid a year later and Greig left the board.

Greig was then appointed the first non-family chairman of the century-old William Grant & Sons Ltd and played a key role in the joint takeover of Highland Distillers with the Edrington Group. In 1996 Greig joined Belhaven Brewery as chairman and his financial expertise proved invaluable in taking the company to the stock market with rising profits. In 2002, his last year as chairman, he reported that Belhaven had “revised banking arrangements to give the company the cash it needed to expand”.

At that meeting the chief executive Stuart Ross commented on the “advice and counsel which we have received from Chris on a variety of different issues. He has a depth of knowledge and understanding of the corporate world very few in Scotland can match.”

Greig was also chairman of PPL Therapeutics and, from 2009, of Lees Foods the Coatbridge confectionary and bakery company.

From 2002 Greig chaired the audit committee and was a board member of Murgitroyd Group, the Glasgow-based trade mark attorneys.

Greig loved farming and owned sizeable farming land both in Fife and East Lothian. The former he had bought from the late Sir Jimmy Gulliver of Argyll Foods. Greig got involved in the management of both farms and much enjoyed organising shooting parties. He devoted much of his time to various charities, in particular the Edinburgh Green Belt Trust, Heriot Watt, St Andrews University and the Airborne Initiative.

Greig was a man of total integrity, blessed with a quick and agile mind that could analyse a complex commercial situation and make a rational decision. He was articulate, courteous and personable.

Rutherford recalls: “Chris was fascinated by business and its challenges. But he was always good-natured and excellent company – he remembered names, your wife’s name and those of all his staff.

“He ensured that the staff benefited from profits’ growth. Chris was a wonderful host and such a good friend.”

Dr Christopher Greig is survived by his wife Anne and their son and two daughters.

Alasdair Steven