Meet James Espey OBE

This week we meet author of Making Your Marque and founder and chairman of The Last Drop Distillers.

What’s your golden rule?
Treat everyone the same with respect, be it a very junior employee or an executive. In this context be nice to people on the way up and with a bit of luck they will remember you on the way down.

Who has been your biggest influence?
Probably the late Sir Anthony Tennant, he became MD of IDV. International Distillers and Vintners in Nov 1976. Profit then was £11m pa largely J and B and Smirnoff. The company was a very loose global confederation with subsidiaries in many parts of the Old Commonwealth. I was the Marketing Director of Gilbeys South Africa. In Jan 77 he visited South Africa and over dinner offered me the post of Global Group Marketing Director and a seat on the board after 6 months, or if I failed I would be returned to SA. The rest is history. But in terms of management style he delegated and trusted me, as long as I kept him informed. It worked well and IDV took off. Today it is 50% of Diageo, £11m to some £1.5 billion is not too bad in 40 years.

What is your most hated business expression?
I hate the misuse of the word “I". Too many I men are too arrogant and thus myopic. A company is all about the people and the TEAM.

What’s the smartest business idea you’ve ever had?
I was very proud to launch Malibu a brand created in South Africa as Coco RICO. Mandela was in jail, apartheid was active and thus SA was a pariah. We imported the first bottles from SA. But later produced it in Harlow, Essex. I love Cape Town, but of course hated Apartheid. When we launched it we simply said "it comes from paradise and tastes like heaven". I am also proud to have created the Keepers of the Quaich. The Scotch Whisky Society, which honours those who have made a serious contribution to the Scotch Whisky Industry. Some call it a Scotch Whisky knighthood. What I like about it is that it is not commercial at all. It is for the total global industry. Last but not least... 15 years ago I backed a young 28-year old entrepreneur who started a software company called Mimecast. Mimecast protects emails against any attack. It literally started in my office at home. I was the first Chairman and provided much of the early finance. Last November it floated on the Nasdaq and is valued at some $1.2 billion with 850 staff on 4 continents and growing all the time.

Which leader do you admire most and why?
There are two leaders I have admired in my life. First President Mandela. An amazing man who understood forgiveness after spending many years in jail for challenging apartheid and white-only rule in South Africa. He believed in a non-racial society where all, no matter what colour or creed, would participate fully in society. Hard to believe in the modern world but blacks were treated as very much second class. Today South Africa is a free sort of democracy, but sadly we are seeing discrimination in reverse and much corruption. It is now an Autocracy run by Zuma and his henchman The second person was Ronald Reagan. A great leader who believed in delegation and trusting colleagues to do the job. I had lunch with him once after he retired and what a gracious, charming, non-arrogant man. He, of course, was the President who brokered the end of the cold war.

What’s your favourite word?
Team or as I use it T.E.A.M. together everyone achieves more. A team is a strong as its weakest link and a good leader delegates and builds a team strengthening each link.

Tell us a secret
It would not be a secret if I told you!!!!


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