Also available in : French
It is a typical October in Island of Skye. This magic place where water, peat and sky mix together, sometimes without any discontinuity, is not 100% covered by bed & breakfast. On its land is a mythical distillery for my generation: the Talisker.
I will never forget when, in 1973, opened in Paris, near Cardinal Lemoine, a unique shop: “King Henry”. It’s tigline was straightforward: 300 beers, 150 whiskies. At last, we had better choice than a traditional walking red man called Johnny.
I discovered what a real whisky was; Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Bowmore, Talisker, were pleasing my palate with subtile tastes. I loved the peaty one, and Talisker was one of my favorite. I offered them to my friends in digestif, after the meal. They always adored this pure malt degustation.
Then, they became more industrialized : not so profound flavor; and they also became more expensive. Marketing took over art. But, when one loves, one remains attached, even if the initial pleasure is somehow weakened.
Back to Island of Skye: I could not miss this opportunity to pay a visit, if not a tribute, to the distillery. It was a Sunday, and luckily the official shop, and visit was closed. But chance was that two of the workers were on site, those true craftmen who love their job. And they talked to us about this love for Talisker, which was visible in the way they were looking at control panels, pushing buttons, caring for the product, and describing their factory.
They were regretfully talking about methods of the past, but they were good at managing with corporate headquarters, and to always find compromises between their quest for quality, and marketing constraints.
Talisker is now part of a big British alcoholic beverages multinational, Diageo, which encompasses many famous brands, such as Smirnoff, Guiness, Baileys, Gordon’s gin etc. A beautiful enterprise. Though…
A few years ago, Diageo had 6 billion pounds in revenues, and 1.9 billion pounds in margin. That year, the corporate sent a top manager to the Talisker distillery, to explain the workers that cost reduction was important for the future of the group, and that Corporate buyers were smart enough to find in China boots that would cost only 15 pounds, instead of their usual boots that costed 45 pounds. Those Chinese boots happened to be uncomfortable, not water proof, they were uneasy to wear, they were even hurting. Yes, but Corporate HQ answered: they cost only 15 pounds.
At the factory, they were hardly ten workers. It took them three years of fight to retrieve their usual comfortable boots. Diageo made real craftsmen suffer in their daily job, which they adored, to spare 900 pounds, probably less that the travel cost of the manager, when the company had almost 2 billion in margin.
This story is not unusual. It happens when managers who have control have no interest, no love, for their products, and no respect for the intelligence of the people who make the quality. Their brain is no more than an excel spreadsheet, they have no soul, no humanity; a pure business school standardized product. They don’t read that book, written in 1936 : “Barenton”, which says “the chief accounting thinks he drives the enterprise because he manipulates figures; as if the head beams was driving the car just because it lights the road”.
In a world of collective intelligence, value is produced specially by those who love their job, who love their products. As says my co founder Idriss Aberkane: “Love can do”. Product which exist because “there is a market” have no soul and are boring. Product conceived and produced with love have a deep soul, and are desired. The recent Apple watch is a perfect example of this, and even its high end luxury version is a big hit.
I do hope the CEO of Diageo sees this message, that he fires his incompetent managers, and go to Island of Skye to thank the workers for maintaining as much as possible a tradition of quality, and create those products that we, all world wide whisky amateurs, want to continue to offer our friends, because we love them.