Sir Ian Good Obituary

It is with great sadness that we record the news of the passing of Liveryman, Sir Ian Good, former chief executive of Edrington.

The Master, Wardens, Court and members of the Worshipful Company of Distillers wish to pass on their heartfelt condolences to Sir Ian’s family, friends and to those privileged to work alongside him.

© The Herald

September 25, 1943 — October 29, 2023

Ian Good, who has died aged 80, was an accountant who played a key role in building the Scotch whisky group Edrington – which produces The Macallan, Famous Grouse and Highland Park – into a major global business.

He was born in Bishopton in 1943, one of two brothers. He attended the John Neilson Institution in Paisley before qualifying as a chartered accountant with Smith and Williamson in Glasgow, and subsequently joining Price Waterhouse post-qualification. He had thought of training to be a pilot at RAF Cranfield but had a last-minute change of heart.

In 1969, he joined the privately owned firm of Scotch Whisky blenders and stockholders, Robertson & Baxter, as executive assistant to the then managing director John Macphail.

R&B as it was affectionately known, was one of two businesses originally owned and still managed by the three Robertson sisters, Elspeth, Ethel (Babs) and Agnes. From an early stage, Ian gained the trust of Miss Babs who was chairman of the company, and quickly became an effective troubleshooter, helping her and John address various challenges around the business.

He was quickly appointed to the boards of Lang Brothers and Hepburn & Ross, two businesses acquired by R&B in the 1960s, to help integrate the family-run companies into the larger group. Through this involvement, he began his life of extensive overseas travel, being adept at establishing warm and lasting relationships with colleagues in drinks businesses around the world. Colleagues he met would inevitably talk of him with words such as integrity, humility, and determination.

After appointment to the R&B Board in 1974, Ian became increasingly influential in the management and direction of the group, and he, John Macphail and finance director Ken Cameron, formed an outstanding team with their colleagues in facing the significant challenges of that era, including fending off the unwanted approach from US spirits business Hiram Walker to acquire sister company Highland Distillers in 1979. He increasingly assumed the lead role in managing and nurturing the Cutty Sark relationship with Berry Bros & Rudd, which had existed since 1936.

In 1961, the Robertson sisters established The Robertson Trust, a charity into which they had donated their entire shareholdings of Robertson & Baxter and Clyde Bonding Company to establish Edrington Holdings as the controlling vehicle, and Ian was appointed to the Edrington board in 1978. At Miss Robertson’s personal invitation, he was also appointed a trustee of The Robertson Trust in 1978. This invitation from Miss Babs was a source of tremendous pride to him.

In 1989, Ian succeeded John Macphail as chief executive of Edrington, and set about determining a new strategic direction for the highly profitable, but sleepy business. This included formally combining the management of the various group companies into the single Edrington entity for the first time, and seeking to take control over the longer term of the brands and distilleries which were so important to its continued success.

The North British Distillery, a vital supplier of grain whisky for The Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark blends, was first acquired on a joint venture basis with International Distillers & Vintners in 1993, but more importantly a decision was taken to begin a five-year plan to acquire the publicly owned Highland Distillers, owners of The Famous Grouse and Highland Park brands. They themselves had successfully acquired The Macallan brand in 1995, and thus Edrington’s eventual acquisition of Highland in 1999 created a fully integrated and international spirits business that has established a global presence today, generating pre-tax profits of over £400million in its most recent financial year.

Throughout his career with Edrington, Ian was passionate, as Miss Babs had been in her time, about the importance of the employees and their involvement with the group’s success. He drove the establishment of extensive employee share ownership and led from the front in ensuring that the group’s values of integrity, involvement, independence, and innovation were demonstrated by him and his colleagues on a daily basis. His personal ethos of excellence was reflected in the special bottling of a single malt presented to him on his retirement.

Outside Edrington, Ian became increasingly influential in the wider Scotch Whisky industry at home and abroad. He chaired the Scotch Whisky Association with distinction and was a Master of Keepers of the Quaich and Grand Master 2005-2006. His views were regularly sought by business leaders in Scotland and around the world. A supreme diplomat, he successfully defused various crises within the industry through his reputation for trust and integrity. He was invited to present the annual Smithsonian Lecture in the USA, a rare accolade for a Scot.

Ian’s involvement with The Robertson Trust led to similar rapid advances in its organisation and direction. He established the Robertson Scholarship Trust to support school and university students from deprived backgrounds and enable them to succeed in education and pursue ambitious careers in their own lives.

Ian retired from Edrington in 2013, after 44 years of service. He remains the single most influential leader of Edrington, who oversaw its evolution from a backroom whisky operations company to a fully-fledged international premium spirits business, with a culture of giving back and involving employees in the great success it has achieved.

Away from his Edrington business life, Ian successfully chaired the Scottish Industry Department Advisory Board and was a non-executive director of Simpsons Malt. He had also developed a lifelong passion for horseracing. This passion led to him being asked to join the Board of Hamilton Park Racecourse by his old friend Sandy Struthers. He succeeded Sandy as chairman and was instrumental in the establishment of Scottish Racing, a body to encompass the interests of all Scottish racecourses, and which he also chaired.

Ian was awarded a CBE in 1992 and was knighted in 2008 for his service to the Scotch Whisky industry.

Ian cherished his family life, with his wife Irene and his adored daughters Fiona and Catriona. He watched with visible pride as they developed their own careers, and his grandchildren Ollie and Angus were a new pleasure in his later years.

Ian Good will be remembered as an inspiring husband and father, who left an indelible mark on the entire Scotch Whisky Industry and above all on Edrington and The Robertson Trust. A man of the utmost integrity, he was a steely leader, but always had a compassionate word for those who were struggling in work or elsewhere. He will be enormously missed by his family and all who had the privilege to call him a friend.

Richard Hunter and Ian Curle [via The Herald]