My Life’s Work | Dr. James Stuart Espey OBE, Chairman, The Last Drop Distillers
In this regular series, we meet a Walpole member to discover what makes them tick, how they define success, and what keeps them awake at night. This week we meet Dr. James Stuart Espey OBE, Chairman, The Last Drop Distillers.
Born in Northern Rhodesia, Zambia but educated in Cape Town, South Africa. Dr. James Stuart Espey OBE has B.Com and MBA degrees and two PhDs in Marketing and Strategic Planning. He founded The Last Drop Distillers, the world’s most exclusive “spirits collection” in 2008 after a distinguished career building brands in the liquor industry, having created Malibu, The Classic Malts, Johnnie Walker Blue Label and Chivas Regal 18, amongst others. He is a mentor and investor in 8 start-up companies, one of which will be sold this week.
WHAT DOES BRITISH LUXURY MEAN TO YOU?
Consistent quality, creativity and enduring style.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION FOR THE LAST DROP DISTILLERS?
Simply to be “the world’s most exclusive spirits collection”, marketing a range of predominantly old but fresh, limited, exclusive spirits products – the bedrock being Scotch whisky.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?
Creating billions of pounds of exports for the UK through the brands I have been involved in, as well as creating The Keepers of the Quaich, the Scotch whisky society in 1988, which honours those globally who have made a significant contribution to the whisky industry.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS?
I think success is measurable when you can look back and say “I did this for the nation and society”. It has provided consumers with much pleasure and satisfaction and in terms of charity, helped those in need.
WHAT’S YOUR GREATEST EXTRAVAGANCE?
I have no real extravagance – I don’t waste money but I spend it carefully. Probably my children and my grandchildren.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?
I simply love being in an industry where we are selling brands “which people love”. The great Coco Chanel said “Fashion goes but style endures” I support this and build in enduring style.
Bureaucracy and red tape.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST REGRET?
My greatest regret was not being an entrepreneur earlier in my career. I was always an intrapreneur creating brands and challenging the corporate system but I started out on my own, either backing start-ups or launching The Last Drop after the age of 55.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
What inspires me is looking ahead and having vision and translating that vision into reality and bringing and motivating people to share that vision. “If you don’t put a line in the water you will never catch a fish.”
WHAT WAS YOUR BIG BREAK?
My big break was being transferred by the late Sir Anthony Tennant to London from South Africa in 1977. I was the first non-Englishman ever to join the Board of IDV, a forerunner of what is now Diageo.
WHAT IS YOUR GUIDING PRINCIPLE?
There is no “I” in the word TEAM. Together Everyone Achieves More. Have vision, a sound strategy, motivate people, build a great team and you will get there.
WHICH LIVING PERSON DO YOU MOST ADMIRE?
The person I admire the most is The Queen. The most iconic, loyal, outstanding brand who has the nation’s best interests in her head and heart.
WHICH WORDS OR PHRASES DO YOU MOST OVERUSE?
Apparently I am very famous for saying, “if you’re not early, you’re late!”
WHAT KEEPS YOU AWAKE AT NIGHT?
Worrying about the finances of working capital in a small business and people who are political and not playing the game.
WHAT DO YOU MOST VALUE IN YOUR FRIENDS?
IN A PARALLEL LIFE, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING?
I would probably be a mentor and entrepreneur to many companies, which I do in a small way today.
WHAT PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE ENTERING THE LUXURY INDUSTRY NOW?
Have the courage to leave the shore – if you never leave the shore you will never reach the other side. Always ensure quality, craftsmanship, integrity and confident pricing.