15 Jul Life is a classroom
I was incredibly humbled to be named CEO of the Year by CEO Monthly. It’s an honour that has made me look back, not only on the journey I have taken with the Whiskey & Wealth Club, but also throughout my career. Taking stock is important to me because it’s an opportunity to learn and an invaluable springboard to whatever happens next.
Start at the beginning
My journey started way back when I was 12. Every Friday my dad would ask me to pick ten shares in the newspaper. My pocket money would then go up or down depending on how much the shares did. It taught me about the importance of research and making educated, well researched investments. Although I didn’t always increase my pocket money but it got me itching to get into the business.
At the age of 19 half a world away in Australia. It was a time of big decisions, and the biggest was the realisation that the well-trodden path to university wasn’t for me. Ever since I can remember I’ve been fascinated by business.
I deferred my place on an engineering degree course and went to work – and I haven’t looked back. I took a job in a call centre for a few months for one of the fastest growing telecoms companies in Australia. My innate talent for sales saw me earn promotion in just a few months and I went on to become one of the company’s youngest ever call centre managers at 19.
I’d learned a lot but there was so much more to discover. I needed to do something for myself. I took the plunge and what I had learnt from the industry, left and started my first business – a telecommunications company direct to customers. In the five years that followed I worked tirelessly to grow the company and learnt more about running a business than I could ever have done studying at university. Real learning only comes when you’re slugging it out in the high stakes business trenches.
A few years into running these businesses I got itchy feet. Spending evenings and weekends in the bad and club scene I decided to get in on the action. Running a successful nightclub and music channel. This took me from Australia to Ibiza filming closing parties and it is a sector that has shaped my life to date.
By the time I turned 24 the business that I’d started from one retail outlet had grown to encompass 11 stores. It was so successful that it attracted buyers, and I sold it on to a competitor.
Drawn back to the investment world
From the success of the sale of the retail franchise being sold I decided to take my first adult steps into the investment industry. I learnt the sector from top to bottom, from sales to management and, ultimately, onto forex trading. When the crypto market was booming, I was there. Trading broadened my understanding of different investment opportunities. While I was well-grounded in the business I knew that there is always more to learn, and I stayed for almost ten years.
Creating a new business
I met one of my co-founders, Jay Bradley back in 2001. Jay was working in an Irish bar at the time and we got chatting over beers. The beers turned to whiskeys and he quickly became one of my closest friends to this day.
So, in 2018 when Jay told me that he was considering starting a wholesale cask whiskey company, I had to say yes. I was well qualified with deep knowledge of both the spirits and investment sectors. As well as taking small companies and growing them into highly profitable ones. And crucially – I’m partial to a whiskey or two.
Whiskey & Wealth Club is now in its second year and we have many amazing highlights. Recognition from the Growing Business Awards and the Richmond Business Awards (RBA) are two of the standouts. RBA was particularly meaningful as Richmond is our base of operations, so to be acknowledged for the contributions we are making to our local community means a lot.
As many entrepreneurs will tell you, however, the road to creating a successful business comes with a lot of challenges and tough lessons. In the early days, we lost distilleries, struggled to meet demand and experienced supply issues. But each setback became an opportunity to learn. Enabling us to open up bigger and better doors.
Managing an A+ team
Our success at Whiskey & Wealth Club is built on our top tier team of colleagues. Motivation is always important and we drive and encourage employees with a transparent career progression system that is 100 per cent determined by their performance. So, once they’ve hit the metrics needed to be promoted, they come to us and they get it. The final stage of the promotion structure is to become a business partner. We want our staff to progress to that level and have the same experiences as we have, driving, growing and owning a business.
Additionally, I always make myself available to the team should they need anything. I’ve learned that leaders need to be approachable so that everyone feels part of the family. Hence why I sit on the floor instead of having a personal office space.
The CEO of the year award is a valuable opportunity to recognise the huge amount of work it has taken to create a wholesale cask whiskey company from scratch. The company hit £10 million in revenue in 2019, built on 140% growth. In April alone investors put £1.3 million into cask whiskey. Ten times that of the same time last year. So where next? Well, we’re right on track to double that this year. Over €22m in revenue for the year ahead. Beyond that…who can say? The answer will come — because life is a classroom and I’m always eager and looking for different avenues to learn.