Laddie Birthdays – Simon and Chrissie

IN

Two of our longest-serving members of staff are marking their 60th birthdays this month. We couldn’t let that pass without asking their colleagues to share some anecdotes and a few things that make them the people they are.

Simon Coughlin, our Whisky Business Unit CEO, who along with Mark Reynier resurrected Bruichladdich, celebrated his big birthday last week and Chrissie Angus, our bulk export co-ordinator, reaches the milestone at the end of December.

Chrissie Angus joined the team when Bruichladdich reopened. She was in charge of a little make-shift shop, upstairs in the old production offices. She moved to the bottling hall in 2003 eventually becoming bulk export coordinator. There was a Chrissie Angus Valinch in 2014 and she has travelled the world on the side of a PC7 tin, when her picture was featured.

Chrissie and Bess on her croft

We know Chrissie has expensive tastes – her favourite whiskies are Black Art and the first ever Valinch from 1970!  But we asked a few of Chrissie’s team mates to reveal a bit more about our export expert – who is affectionately known as “Auntie Chrissie”.

Our customers love her Islay accent, she’s a great baker – notable hits include her tablet and banana loaf. She has an unusual passion for articulated lorries and she has a great sense of humour.

“She’s not the best at technology,” one of her colleagues revealed. When her computer is not co-operating she says it’s not just stuck on the hamster wheel, but will say “The hamster is dead”.

She manages the exports from the distillery from her office, between the Laddie Shop and the goods entrance, which is adorned with photos of her favourite Laddie lorries from over the years.

An animal-lover, Chrissie has a croft. She keeps an eye on her flock and herd from her office; at lambing and calving times she’ll be checking her lamcam and calfcam streams to check all is well.

She is a steward for highland cattle at the Islay show and organises the herd competition every year going round the farms of Islay. Pre-lockdown, she worked regularly at the livestock auctions at Bridgend. 

Her lifelong friend Arlene says she’s even brought in lambs to handfeed at Bruichladdich and the two of them have taken turns on bottle duty. Bess the collie dog has been known to put in a shift at work too from time to time.

“She can swear with the best of them, when the sheep don’t do what they are meant to!” reveals Arlene. “She has a million different garden ornaments. She takes a lot of pride in her garden.”

Her colleagues also said she was hardworking, always cheerful and, according to friend and colleague Andy Fisher:  “She has no time for time-wasters or incompetence. Basically she takes no prisoners.  She would say to their face ‘Youre a donkey!! ‘ But always with a smile! ”

“I learned so much about logistics from her especially exporting to different countries from Taiwan to Mexico.  Every export had their different quirks and Chrissie knows all of them.  I think people were disappointed when they got me on the phone though, since Chrissie is always a joy to talk to; they would always ask for her.”

Simon leads the Laddie crew, socially and in business

Simon was Bruichladdich’s CEO until 2017 when he took over the whole of our parent company’s Global Whisky Business Unit, adding Domaine des Hautes Glaces in France and Westland Distillery in the US to his portfolio.

His life in the drinks industry began when he found himself bored by university, and left to join close friend Mark Reynier working in his family firm. They specialised in importing fine wine from Burgundy, later expanding and diversifying into bottling single malts.

When the semi-derelict Bruichladdich became available in 2000, the two men seized the opportunity, put together a proposal, and somehow persuaded a group of fifty enthusiasts to buy shares. The risk was mind-boggling. Most industry insiders thought they were mad!

“How do you have the guts to keep asking shareholders for money when you aren’t making any? How do you get suppliers to keep sending you dry goods when you can’t pay them? Well, you need a Simon,” said Lynne McEwan, Global Marketing Manager.

A touch of that madness, a can-do attitude, alongside an astute business head and an innate ability to connect with people is a constant thread in the comments his colleagues made about him. More than a few mentioned his enthusiasm for dressing up, Darth Vader and The Incredible Hulk being notable examples, with the latter undoubtedly being the most vividly remembered.

Arlene MacFadyen, bottling hall supervisor, recalls, “He was green from top to bottom – absolutely covered!”

Simon, far right, as the incredible hulk  [spin your phone if you are on mobile, to get a fright!]

“The incredible hulk was a stand out moment!,” says Tina MacLeod, supervisor on The Botanist line. “I overheard him on the phone when his health was enquired about saying ‘I am green…No I am green…No I’m really green!!’  How he got that intense colour out I’ll never know!”

She summed up what many said of Simon – a flexible, understanding boss, always approachable and always willing to roll his sleeves up, a man who always makes time for his staff.

“He joined us to help with heavy workloads and drams and anecdotes on a Friday and on nights out… Mostly he is kind,” she said.

Jonathan Carmichael, manager of the Bottling Hall, concurred saying he was always willing to muck in with the rest of the team to complete an order on time.

“He would regularly stay late in the evenings and come in at the weekends with the other bottling hall guys and could be seen making up cases, hand-labelling bottles, doing a stint on the line, and even driving forklift trucks!

“He said it was a good way to get some exercise which he otherwise wouldn’t get due to being in the office most of the time!”

Mary McGregor, Private Client Manager, recalls his dancing prowess at her first meeting with Simon, over 20 years ago – at a Christmas party at Bruichladdich hall.

“And what a great dancer he was and is!” she said. “When I got invited to work at the distillery a couple of years later in the shop, Simon worked up in the old offices alongside Duncan, Mark, Jim, Ella and Lorna. Of course, away back then, my strategy was to get as many bottles signed as possible (more signatures = more bottles sold) and Simons office was the closest to the door – he never once complained!

“When I was asked if I have any stories or memories or photos of Simon, I contacted some of the folk that used to work alongside us (even as far afield as Australia) and all of them jumped at the chance of looking out some old photos and stories. The one thing that really stood out for me was everyone he has worked with has the utmost respect for this wonderful man.”

Simon then and now

Lynne said: “Simon is the real, unsung hero in the story of the last 20 years… And it’s not because Simon is quiet, let’s be honest he is not.  No-one can tell a story like Simon, and I sincerely hope that one day he writes his memoirs as it would be quite literally unbelievable! He is 100% committed to great food, great booze and the joy of life, he will always be on the dance floor even if it is with Douglas [our CEO] on his shoulders…

“To have Simon in a meeting is a wonderful thing, he says less than everyone, usually at the end, and makes the very complicated seem very simple and the very hard, seem very possible.”

The last word is with Mary and goes for all of us at the distillery. “Happy Birthday Simon. Happy Birthday Chrissie! Let us share many more happy memories together on this fabulous Laddie journey.”

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