THU 28TH MAY 2020


Bringing the family business community together

Cheers From Gordon & MacPhail

Michael Urquhart

Position: Managing Director

Company: Gordon & MacPhail

Sector: Food & Drink


Business Address: George House, Boroughbriggs Road, Elgin, Moray, Scotland IV30 1JY


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Company Description

Gordon & MacPhail is an independent family owned and managed firm which has been bottling Single Malt Whiskies for over 118 years. Michael shares his thoughts on the family firm.

Question & Answers with Michael Urquhart

What Does Your Family Business Do?
Gordon & MacPhail has a number of business interests.  We are a bottler of whiskies from throughout Scotland.  Casks owned by Gordon & MacPhail are sent to distilleries and filled with ‘new-make’ spirit before being matured at the distillery or in our warehouses in Elgin.  When the time is right they are bottled under various Gordon & MacPhail ranges.  


These whiskies are sold throughout the UK and over 50 international markets.  We are a distiller in our own right, owning Benromach Distillery in Forres, where our whiskies are exported to over 30 worldwide markets.  Gordon & MacPhail is also one of the UK’s top independent whisky, wine and spirits wholesalers.   And finally Gordon & MacPhail is a retailer, owning the shop where our business first started in Elgin in 1895.  

How Did You Get Involved?
I joined the business in 1981 after having qualified and practiced as a Chartered Accountant as finance director and then, seventeen years or so ago, taking on the additional responsibility for our international sales 

What Did You Want To Be When You Grew Up?
If I hadn’t been an accountant or work in the whisky business I had fancied a career in stockbroking – but that was a long time ago!.

What Are Your First Memories Of The Family Business?
Working in the business, in the warehouse, bottling hall and making deliveries in the northern part of Scotland (once I had passed my driving test) during school and college holidays. I remember before my secondary school years going out on our confectionery sales van (we were involved in the grocery and related products in those days) - talk of a kid in a candy store!  

What Values Are Important In Your Family/Family Business?
We have 5 company values by which we operate the business.  Taking Pride; Having integrity and loyalty; Developing and supporting colleagues; Displaying a positive attitude; and Respecting our environment.

What Is The Best Thing About Being A Family Business?
Taking the longer term view. Building a profitable, sustainable business which can act as a vehicle for future prosperity, which in turn can sustain employment and allow the business to develop. We have a family saying: “The future is shaped by what we do today, today reveals what we did in the past”.  I think this sums up our approach, particularly on the whisky side of the business.  Whisky we put into cask today will not be consumed for many, many years and the efforts of our labor will be enjoyed by generations to come.  


An example of this was seen in 2010 when we launched the world’s oldest Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Generations Mortlach 70 Years Old.  The cask this whisky was matured in was filled on the instruction of my grandfather John Urquhart, the first generation of the Urquhart family to be involved in Gordon & MacPhail, in 1938.  We bottled it in 2008 and officially unveiled it at an exclusive event held at Edinburgh Castle in March 2010. John started in the business, as an apprentice aged 14, in 1895 subsequently becoming senior partner in 1915.

And The Worst?
Challenges will come and go in business but when the chips are down we have found great support from many. Having been flooded twice when the banks of the River Lossie broke and water flooded into our site at Boroughbriggs Road in Elgin the task of getting back to normal seemed daunting to say the least. With the help, dedication and support of our staff, suppliers, advisors and understanding from our customers we were back up and running within the week, despite a seven figure insurance claim.

What Is The Best Thing About Your Working Day?
Our business interests are quite varied from retailing to wholesaling and bottling to distilling.  Variety is the spice of life!  On the whisky side of things I have been travelling the world and instilling the virtues of Single Malt over  the last two decades or so.  Over these years I have been privileged to meet so many fascinating people and heard so many wonderful stories.

What Is Your Proudest Family Business Achievement?
It was always the ambition of generations of my family that one day we would own a distillery.  In 1993 this goal became a reality when we purchased Benromach Distillery in Forres.  We took 5 years to re-equip the distillery before it was opened by HRH Prince Charles in 1998.  It was a very proud moment when the first spirit flowed from the stills that year.  Today Benromach whiskies are enjoyed in over 30 international markets. I have also been very proud that the Company has won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for International Trade twice.

Is There A Next Generation Waiting In The Wings To Take Over?
There are currently five of the ten  member of the fourth generation of the Urquhart family working full time in the business with another one a non-executive director.  SMy nephew Stephen Rankin who joined the company in 2000 was made Director of UK Sales in 2010 and Neil Urquhart was made Director of Logistics and Facilities in the same year. 


Stuart and Richard Urquhart are working in roles in Whisky Supply and Export sales respectively.  My daughter, Laura joined the business at the beginning of 2013 and is working through our Management Training Programme and Jenny Houldsworth  (my neice) who is a no-executive director.   There are currently nine children in the 5th generation (and one of the way!)   Who knows one day they might join the business.

What Do You See As The Biggest Challenge Facing Family Businesses?
For the longevity of any business (family owned or not) it is important to know where it is going. Once that is known and clearly communicated its easy to manage any change in getting there and that can be one of the pitfalls for a family business. At G&M we have been working on this for a many years and we are in the process of the final transition from the third to the fourth generation, from a sibling partnership to a cousin consortium, and as we don’t have all the necessary skill sets within the family, we have some non-family directors.

What Words Do You Associate With Family Businesses?
Integrity, quality, sustainability, longevity  – your name is effectively “above the door”

Words Of Wisdom – What Piece Of Advice Would You Pass On To Someone Thinking About Joining The Family Business?
You’ve to work hard and don’t assume a job is guaranteed for you if you join the business.  Experience a bit of life, learn by working for other businesses in other sectors and be prepared to continually challenge yourself and be prepared to change.  Never rest on your laurels and seek and adapt to the requirements of the environment in which the business trades as there is one sure thing in life, and that’s change.


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