Meet our CEO, Douglas Taylor

IN

Life could have been very different for our CEO Douglas Taylor, had he not “stumbled into the drinks business”.

Having studied Town and Country & Environmental Planning, a young entrepreneurial Douglas didn’t much fancy a life inside a local authority planning department. He started in business instead, setting up his own landscaping company. It was a development of his summer job, but it was successful to the point that it’s still running today under his original business partner’s family control.

In 1998 Douglas’ energy and ambition found an outlet in Diageo’s graduate scheme. He cut his teeth on the front line of sales:

I’d pack my black pilot’s bag with optics, samples and an order pad and I would head off. My first territory was North Ayrshire, but ‘promotion’ quickly followed as I was given Renfrewshire before eventually moving to look after the bars and clubs in Glasgow city centre!”.

From there he gained experience in several different UK commercial roles, managed a distributor network in the Nordics, and landed in marketing and innovation, working on global Johnnie Walker projects. He was busy with Innovation for the duty free sector ten years ago, when he and Bruichladdich first crossed paths.

Doing well on a sound career path, he thought his first meetings with our small, independent, island distillery were pure networking. But a lunch meeting with one of our founders Mark Reynier made a big impression: “He was a visionary, the more he talked about the industry and how Bruichladdich was different, the more hooked I got... It was such a progressive whisky business, it made me realise I was sleepwalking…” Meetings then followed with Simon Coughlin and the other founders, and in 2011 Douglas jumped ship to join “the amazing company” that had resurrected the Victorian distillery on Islay.

“I was really drawn to this mission…”

As the first bottles of The Botanist gin hit the shelves, Douglas was at the marketing and commercial helm of the company.

Shortly afterwards came another twist. In 2012, there was an approach from multi-national drinks company – Remy Cointreau – to buy Bruichladdich, lock stock and barrel. An approach of this sort was not entirely unusual; the company had been courted many times before. The Bruichladdich Board had to decide whether or not to recommend the offer to its shareholders. Remy Cointreau were family-owned and well-versed in the idea of terroir, based as they are in Cognac country, between the Loire valley and Bordeaux. They wanted to invest in unique spirits from around the world, without compromising on provenance or local team integrity. As someone who had joined the distillery with the remit of growing the business, albeit as an independent, Douglas ultimately saw how this suitor might change things for the better.

For the next five years, Douglas’ job as Global Brand Director, saw him lead the commercial integration of Bruichladdich into the Remy Cointreau structures and networks. He managed the sales and marketing strategies for rapidly-growing The Botanist gin, and the three other single malt whisky brands we make. And he was determined that the independent spirit of the distillery that had so attracted him in the first place, was protected. He also established and became Chairman of The Botanist Foundation – a Community Interest Company committed to work with the people of Islay and beyond, to further the understanding and conservation of the island’s biodiversity.

As a mark of a mission successfully achieved, in 2017 Douglas was offered the position of CEO, taking over from Bruichladdich founder Simon Coughlin. Simon shifted to looking after all of Remy Cointreau’s whisky interests – in the Alps and Seattle, alongside those at Bruichladdich.

In the 20 years since Bruichladdich Distillery was resurrected, the team have always had at their heart the compulsion to build a sustainable business on Islay. And in his role as CEO, Douglas brought his own social and environmental curiosity to create a freshly energised, sustainable vision for the next chapter of the Bruichladdich story.

“What legacy do you leave on a business when there have been such pronounced legacies left by your forbears? When the iconic stature was set by someone else – is it enough to just keep treading the same path? … We were starting to talk about sustainable agriculture practice, crop rotation, owning and farming our own land for R&D, beyond flavour. What did we want our role in the local ecosystem to be? How could we better serve and keep more value in the community? How could we help manage Islay’s biodiversity? Conservation programmes? How could we reduce dependency on fossil fuel, reducing our CO2 footprint? Could we source renewable energy from tidal energy or hydrogen? Could we do more for the next generation of young adults growing up on Islay? Philanthropy? Bursaries? Partnerships? The list of positive social and environmental possibilities (of doing more than just making and selling spirits) seemed endless and we had to do something about it – surely we could use our business as a force for good?” 

Potential for creating meaningful change at Bruichladdich and beyond

Finally after 18 months of audits, on top of this 20 years of commitment, in May 2020 Bruichladdich distillery announced it was B Corp certified, a huge step forward under Douglas’ stewardship. Officially, People, Planet and Profit were now on equal footing, and it’s all go! The distillery is currently looking at 13 different renewable energy sources & has been granted government funding through the green distilleries programme with another application concerning biomass in place. In 2019 Douglas announced – live on national radio – that the distillery was not just aiming to reduce its carbon footprint but that it will aim to become net zero in its distilling operations by 2025.

So, who knows where we’ll be in 100 years? If Douglas Taylor has anything to do with it, we’ll still be in business, like his gardening venture right at the start of his career. We’ll still be staunchly in Islay, we’ll have the full courage of our idiosyncratic convictions while being sensitive to local and global realities. The Botanist and our whisky brands will have continued to grow. And they’ll have done a lot of good along the way.


>> Listen to a conversation with Douglas on The Botanist Foundation

>> Learn about our continued involvement with the Botanic Garden Conservation International (BGCI)

>> More on our future energy possibilities and hydrogen power study

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