An Interview with Lynne McEwan

IN

“There was nothing intentional about my career,” says Lynne McEwan, our Global Marketing Manager. “I just wanted to be part of this business because I was, and am still very much, inspired by the vision of what this place can do.” Her career at Bruichladdich began soon after it reopened in 2001. Like much of our local talent, her first job was as a tour guide in the Laddie Shop.

She hadnt seen it as her destiny to be in the whisky business, even though as the eldest daughter of Master Distiller Jim McEwan, she had been surrounded by it since birth.  Jim had a huge hand in the resurrection of Bruichladdich in 2001 and its change-making reputation. It wasnt until she was standing up in front of a roomful of South Africans in 2004 to deliver her own first tasting, however, that she realised she had never seen him perform. She had to find her own way. 

“At that time, the only jobs in Islay for whisky were in production, and those were difficult to get. Beyond production, I didn’t have an understanding of the diversity of jobs that existed in the industry because they were not based on the island, so whisky didn’t seem an employment option for me.  When Bruichladdich was resurrected it was so different because it had such a strong vision of what it could do.”

Part of Bruichladdich’s raison d’être was creating local opportunities, boosting an area that had suffered population decline and economic blows in the previous decade. She describes doing any job that became available – data entry for bulk stock, sales, an Ambassador role that took her to different places round the world – then from 2012 when we became part of Remy Cointreau’s network, she stepped into brand direction, a function that she describes as largely instinctive for her, having been telling our story for 20 years. She has gradually been promoted to the role she is in today.

A voracious reader, she’s someone who is motivated by learning new things; she sees education as an important part of her role. Bruichladdich’s approach has always been transparent – “Telling our story, talking about what we believe in, and rattling cages when we needed to… We’re not going to tell you a story that has no connection to reality.” She argues that the more knowledge about whisky spreads, the better it is for everyone. “Because there’s so much depth in whisky, so much richness, but you can only tap into that if you start to unpick and learn a bit more about it.”

Earlier days “It was very different when I started”

In terms of openness, she has seen the industry change, and relishes how that serves a bigger goal too. “It was very different when I started. There are many more distilleries today doing things similar to us, that are focusing on the whole process from land to dram, taking responsibility for that and putting value back into the community. A lot of them are born green, so in many ways they’re ahead of us, and that’s incredible. We attended the World Whisky Forum in 2018, and the number of people that referenced Bruichladdich and said, “You inspired us…” was amazing.  That lone voice became a movement which inspired other distillers who are now taking it even further forward and we’re learning from them; it’s become a wonderful cyclical thing…

If were going to make real change in the world, none of us are going to doit alone. There is no competitive advantageto doing things right, whether its regenerative agriculture, or hydrogen technology, light-weighting glass bottles, or future-proofing rural communities, we need to share.To open-source and to learn from each other, try stuff, fail, and try again.We are going to have to do this together.  

For Lynne’s generation, there have been other welcome changes when it comes to equal opportunities. You do have more women in production now, which is great, butthere is still more to be done and I firmly believe you can’t be what you can’t see.  So when kids on Islay can see Georgie [Crawford atLagavulin or in her new role at Farkin] ormyself, or Emma in HR or Jane in Content, Joanne and Moira in warehousing and Arlene and Tina in bottling, they can see that they have options on Islay and their horizons can be that much more expanded. 

She points to the progress within Bruichladdich; our senior management has been as high as 60% female in recent years. All of us have some experience that can be of support to another woman. Menopause, coming back to work after you’ve had a baby, juggling working and home schooling, or not being able to have a baby,caring forageing parents indeed sometimes all of these at once.. There are all these issues and statistically the burden of that falls on women…” Lynne worked 3 days a week for a chunk of timewhen her family was young, which she says wasnt easy. One of the barriers to be overcome is the perception that regardless of whether working part time, we can still grow and add huge valueto the business. 

We have much more flexible working than we did even 5 years ago, and we want to do more. Our maternity and paternity policies have improved. Lynne makes the point that it isnt just about mums staying at home; increasing paternity leave is also really important. In starting a womens group this year at Bruichladdich (its first meeting was today, in fact, International Womens Day 2022) a big part of the agenda is illuminating taboo subjects, for men in the business too, making sure that everyone feels supported and well-informed. 

It makes perfect sense, given Lynne’s openness, her humour, and her strong convictions, that she has spent her formative years at Bruichladdich, and Bruichladdich has spent its formative years with Lynne. I just believe in this place. I believe this place creates change, it creates opportunities, and if I can be a part of that, if what I do helps to take that dream a bit forward andmakes a positive impact on Islay, then that makes me feel that I have value…” Its a feeling that has set our course so far and will keep us going long distance.

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