Interview: Kirsten Grant Meikle on women’s roles in the whisky business

Interview: Kirsten Grant Meikle on women’s roles in the whisky business

WG&S’ director of prestige has carved a role for herself and other women championing brands such as Glenfiddich

It was never Kirsten Grant Meikle’s intention to join the family business as she already had a career. She was working in the wine industry – but times were changing. Hendricks and Monkey Shoulder spirits sales were beginning to pick up pace in the UK market. These brands were part of the family business, the William Grant & Sons company, and Kirsten’s uncle, WG&S president Charlie Gordon was keen to promote the company’s other key brands, Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Sailor Jerry.

At her uncle’s request, Meikle joined the business with the initial task of spearheading project ‘Transformer’ to grow the company’s presence, commercial sales and brands. The rest is WG&S history.

Connecting Travel met with Meikle when she visited Dubai this month to host ‘Women in Whisky’, an event aimed at fostering connections among women in the Middle East hospitality sector.

Connecting Travel: Tell us about how the Women in Whisky event came about?
Kirsten Grant Meikle: I was here in Dubai last December visiting some friends. It was the first time I had been able to travel here in about five years due to living in the USA and then Covid lockdowns. While I was here, I noticed a change in the sector of women in business. As I began to discuss this with my friends in hospitality and our Dubai distributors, A&E, it occurred to me that the Glenfiddich brand and myself had a great story to tell: the story of all the powerful females in our history, our company and my own story. Here in Dubai, our luxury sales manager, marketing manager and distributor are all women. This team structure made for a perfect platform to host our first all-female Glenfiddich event at the female-run Fi’lia restaurant.

The event was attended by over 30 ladies in the hospitality sector and we received some fantastic feedback

Women in Whisky event

CT: There’s a perception that whisky is a male-dominated market. Is this true?
KGM: I think this depends on where you are in the world. In the UK and the USA, where I have lived and worked, this is certainly not the case anymore. We are now seeing this trend expand across the globe. Whisky cocktails have exploded over the last few years, and this has led to increased accessibility of whisky to new consumer groups and specifically women. 

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CT: What sets Glenfiddich apart from other whisky brands?
KGM: Being a completely family-owned business, we don’t have the same pressures as PLC companies or external shareholders. This gives us the freedom to make our own decisions, in our own time. If we make some mistakes along the way, then that’s fine. As a result, we have hundreds of experiments running all the time, hence the Glenfiddich Experimental Series. Speaking of which, we have just released our 5th edition, Orchard finished in Somerset Apple Brandy casks.

We have a fantastic and unrivalled inventory of aged stock, which sets the company up in good stead for the future

CT: Where is the brand experiencing the most growth?
KGM: Most markets are currently experiencing growth. As markets open up in a post-Covid world, people are just happy to be out and about again, back in bars and restaurants, which is great for the business overall. What we have also found is that when people were stuck at home, they experimented a lot more with spirits and educated themselves. This helped along with the proliferation of online whisky tasting sessions, which became big business during the lockdowns. 


CT: What are your goals in your current role?
KGM: My role usually changes every 18 months to two years. This is so that I can understand every area of the business. Recently, I have worked in the supply chain area which, as you may imagine, is quite tricky at the moment. In some ways, this is great for me in terms of my learning, as every day is a big challenge. Understanding how we actually get goods to market is fascinating. Getting my head around all that is an achievement in itself!

CT: And, finally, what’s your proudest professional achievement to date?
KGM: It would have to be the success of the original luxury team that I built in the UK, back in 2014. The team still exists today with many of the same people (men and women!), who have developed themselves throughout the William Grant & Sons business. Some of the ladies there have worked for me for over 15 years, both at WG&S and previously at Matthew Clark. It is amazing to see how far they have come and to watch them fly high in their current roles. The business model I created back then is still the template for rollout across the globe in line with Glenfiddich and the company’s journey to luxury. 

For more information, visit www.williamgrant.com

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