By Dominic Roskrow

Keep it in the family

As low points go, the conversation I had with a senior person at Glenmorangie on the day the sale of the company was announced is up there.
As low points go, the conversation I had with a senior person at Glenmorangie on the day the sale of the company was announced is up there.It wasn’t the subject matter that was so upsetting. It was when I put my foot in it and said that word about the imminent sale had been out for about a week. After a pregnant silence that spoke volumes, all the person said was “today’s news has come as a great shock to the staff here.”That the chattering classes knew of the company’s availability before its employees did is not unprecedented – I once found out I was redundant from a girlfriend who had heard about my newspaper’s demise on national radio – but it is no less upsetting for all that, and it might well be a precursor for the shape of things to come.At the risk of sounding like an unreformed Marxist, I have never come to terms with the brutality of business at the sharp end, ever since my friend Chris Della Porta told me that his dad had lost his job as a director of Premier Drums, provider of drum kits to the biggest stars, even though he and his brothers had formed the company. It made no sense to me and still doesn’t.Don’t get me wrong, I don’t sign up to the other view that lazy management boards should be allowed to squander away company profits and ultimately staff jobs with impunity. Watching Oliver Stone’s Wall Street again just the other day, I found that I still have a sneaking respect for Gecko’s ‘greed is good’ speech and his call for companies to be given back to the people who have most to benefit from making them efficient and successful.But there is a big difference between that sort of fat cat management and the progressive and impressive leadership displayed at whisky companies such as Glenmorangie and Glenfiddich. That a big global-focused company should gets its hands on Glenmorangie sticks in the craw, and the fact that the share price shot up when the news was announced is a worrying indicator of what might happen next. After all, share prices go up when the market thinks that profits might go up.And there are only two ways to raise profit: cut costs or raise revenues. Both would indicate changes and I can’t help but think that no matter how many conditions the Macdonald family impose on the terms of sale, nobody’s going to part with £300 million without the right to run their business in the medium and long term as they see fit.By coincidence I was up at Glenfiddich and Balvenie very shortly after the Glenmorangie news was announced, and it brought the issue in to stark focus.Because Glenfiddich is now so universal it is not regarded as cutting edge, and malt lovers often take it for granted. But it deserves respect for the pioneering work it has done in the past, and it remains a fine distillery that is still prepared to try the unexpected.Where else would you suddenly be confronted with a large neon sign with the word ‘gravity’ beaming out, or see a collection of bright orange buckets on the wall? A group of artists in residence from all over the world bring colour and glamour to the distillery, which in itself is a model of style.But most impressive of all were the staff there. You can tell when people are really happy in their work, but at Glenfiddich there’s something else there, too. Pride.It’s a rare and highly valuable commodity, but you find it a lot in the world of whisky. They have it in abundance at Glenmorangie, too.That’s what this sale risks sacrificing. Let’s hope for the sake of out industry, the new owners of Glenmorangie understand that.