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In today’s Luxury Leader interview we meet Stuart Cassells, General Manager of The Macallan Esate, one of Walpole’s newest members. Stuart’s role reaches across every aspect of The Macallan Estate, from commercial management to retail operations, and working with the team to deliver luxury experiences for guests from across the globe. Here we hear how he made the pivot from founding member and musical director of the world-renowned Red Hot Chilli Pipers to GM at one of the world’s finest whisky producing estates.
From a young age, Stuart Cassells had a passion for Scotland, and through almost every stage of his life he has been driven to share stories of Scotland, and its culture, with people from all around the world.
As a child, he played bagpipes in a local traditional band that would welcome international guests to his hometown of Falkirk, and his first job was as a tour guide at Stirling Castle, which inspired an interest in hospitality and tourism.
An exceptionally talented musician, Stuart was crowned BBC Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year in 2005, and he later went on to become the first graduate to achieve an honours degree in the bagpipes from The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
The founding member and musical director of the world-renowned Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Stuart spent much of his early adult years touring the globe, changing the perception of bagpipe music as he went. As the Chilli Pipers’ success grew, Stuart eventually took on a managerial role, bringing traditional Scottish music to audiences around the world from America to China.
Combining his passion for Scottish culture with a love of whisky, he went on to gain an internship within Edrington, making his way up the ranks before joining The Macallan in 2018.
Stuart was appointed General Manager of The Macallan Estate in 2019 just one year after the launch of the new Distillery.
What is your vision for the business?
We have built a brand based on a belief in uncompromised excellence, and we look to create an incomparable legacy where The Macallan is seen as the ultimate symbol of craftsmanship and creativity.
The Macallan Estate is intrinsically linked to the growing success of The Macallan globally and is our world-class luxury hospitality destination, representing the pinnacle experience of our brand for our consumers.
Nurtured by nature for almost 200 years, we have a deep respect for both the environment and community. The Macallan, like many others, is on a constant journey with sustainability, exploring different avenues and initiatives which will make a positive impact on the planet and communities. Our brand home is our most active statement of our commitment to sustainability, giving more to our community and managing the Estate for our future legacy.
As a leading brand, we can lead and inspire others, driving meaningful change and building a legacy through collaboration and innovation.
How have you led the company through the current Covid-19 crisis?
Naturally, The Macallan has been affected by the pandemic, however, we have continued to invest in our brand, delivering significant campaigns and an outstanding array of new whisky releases. This has allowed us to continually connect with our audiences through our deep values, authenticity, and rich heritage.
Community has always been integral to our brand, and this has been more important than ever during the pandemic. Personally, I have felt an incredible sense of pride in how our teams adapted to the situation and their remarkable resilience. As a brand, we are very proud to have a strong and supportive global community.
And what do you see as the lasting impact of the pandemic on your business?
The full impact of COVID-19 remains to be seen, but we do know that the impact on our consumers, sales channels and category will be felt for possibly years, to come.
We have unsurprisingly witnessed a growth in ecommerce, and we are investing in optimising this experience for our consumers, along with the demand for ‘at home’ experiences.
It has accelerated our development around The Macallan’s at home experiences, particularly around being able to take our brand home to people remotely and connect our community globally to The Macallan Estate.
Despite the challenging circumstances, our people delivered an exceptional array of products from the likes of The Macallan Red Collection that showcased our deep heritage and history of Master Whisky Makers, and Edition No. 6, which highlighted our commitment to preserving the natural resources on our Estate through support for The Atlantic Salmon Trust.
What’s next for both you and the company?
In the immediate future, myself and the team are delighted to be re-opening The Macallan Estate. We are lucky enough to be located amidst breath-taking natural landscapes, on a 485-acre Estate, unlike any other distillery in Scotland.
The team have been working to develop new consumer experiences, including The Macallan Legacy Experience – an incredible opportunity to be hosted on a private visit to The Macallan Distillery, explore the hidden depths of our unique land including the banks of the legendary River Spey and learn about the native wildlife and forests along the way (enquiries to email@example.com). Significant work has been undertaken to create a safe and welcoming environment and we look forward to Walpole members joining us on Speyside in the future.
As we build The Macallan Estate as a destination for our guests to return to again and again, we are looking forward to hosting exciting events and brand announcements, along with delivering world class hospitality. I am motivated to be working with an incredibly talented and committed team under a shared vision.
What was your big break?
After a long running career in the music industry, where I most notably created, was MD of and for years performed with, the famous bagpipe band the Red Hot Chilli Pipers – I reached a pivot moment in my life.
Fundamental to this shift, was being accepted onto the Saltire Fellowship in 2012, which saw me spend eight months getting an “experiential” MBA from Babson College in Massachusetts. Looking back, it is probably the most important thing I’ve ever done. The whole experience gave me the toolkit to move into a corporate life – including adopting a truly global mindset.
When I got back, I secured a three-month placement with The Famous Grouse team – at Edrington – and thankfully I was given an opportunity to stay, eventually being promoted to my current role in February 2019.
What inspires you?
Overall in my life, my biggest passion has been promoting and marketing Scottish culture. I just happened to do that through the bagpipes before, and now it’s through whisky, so I feel I’m meeting my original mission and vision from a personal perspective.
Excellence in what we deliver is another key driver – everything we do is built on an “Uncompromised Excellence” to drive uniqueness and distinctiveness, which in no truer than at The Macallan Estate.
We are lucky enough to be situated in the incredible Speyside countryside – the only true whisky valley in the world – and in the last ten years our area has transformed as a destination. As we move forward at The Macallan Estate, we will continue to raise the bar even higher and take our excellence to new levels.
What piece of advice would you give to someone wishing to work in the luxury sector?
The British luxury sector is synonymous with an exacting attention to detail and perfection mindset, fully understanding that the small things make such a difference to a consumer experience.
This mentality around being consumer focused and having the highest expectations for what you deliver is at the forefront of thinking in the luxury sector.
What would you be doing in a parallel life?
Naturally, there has always been a part of me that wondered what I would have gone on to do if I had not developed the medical condition focal dystonia, which is referred to as musicians’ cramp, and affected my ability to play at the same level.
Prior to my Saltire Fellowship opportunity, I considered following my passion for music in a different manner through broadcasting and had the opportunity host music programmes on a national radio station.
However, in my current role I can still tap into my ability to hold a crowd – I can demonstrate my passion for The Macallan. As general manager you are fairly visible to consumers and I welcome some of our highest-value clients from all over the world to The Macallan Estate, to give them an incredible experience.
What does British luxury mean to you?
Our country is synonymous with quality brands and heritage, stretching back to the 19th century when everything of the finest quality was made in Britain.
At The Macallan, we believe we can epitomise Scottish luxury through our heritage and provenance, while allowing that long standing history to shape our future and our journey forward.
What’s your favourite luxury?
I have a long-standing appreciation for luxury watches that spans back a purchase while I was in New York, at a time when I was contemplating the next step in my career and moving on from my time in professional music. While on Park Avenue, I made the decision to buy my first timepiece, which was an Omega Speed Master 1972 – a replica of the model used in the race to the moon in 1969.
I treasure that timepiece to this day and I have added to my collection of luxury watches as time has gone one, with another favourite being my Heuer Monaco, synonymous with Steve McQueen and his role in the 1971 film Le Mans.
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