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Charles Grant Gordon (8/21/1927 to 12/21/2013)

Charles Grant Gordon at Girvan, 1964

The spirits industry lost a prevalent figure late last year with the death of Charles Grant Gordon, life president of William Grant & Sons Ltd. Charles, who, after a short illness, died at the age of 86, on December 21st, 2013, was the driving force behind the hugely successful family company.

 

Charles, born in Glasgow, Scotland, to William Grant Gordon, Distiller, and Janet Grant, a doctor, had his sights set on the spirits industry from a young age and spent much of his youth absorbing his father’s expertise in business matters and distilling. In 1945, he joined the Navy, serving on various vessels based out of Malta and returned in 1948, ready to earn his accounting qualification at Glasgow University and then join the family firm in 1951. His first assignment there was to visit the Glenfiddich Distillery and find out, in his father’s words, “what the hell was happening” in order to begin its rebuilding.

 

Charles became director of the company in 1953, after the unexpected death of his father and was joined by his brother, Alexander “Sandy” Grant Gordon, a year later. Together, they plotted the future of the business and watched as it grew. Charles spent the next years traveling extensively, making lifelong connections while promoting his brands.

 

The next step was the launch of their iconic triangular bottle, a revolutionary move for its time, which is still embodied today in the Grant’s Family Reserve blend (the number three blended whisky in the world) and Glenfiddich Single Malt (the malt market leader).

 

The Paisley bottling plant was opened in 1960, and Girvan distillery was built in 1963 in a record eight months. That same year, they launched Glenfiddich “Straight” Malt internationally, despite the many skepticism of many in the industry. This was the beginning of the single malt category as we know it today, where Glenfiddich continues to lead the way across the world.

 

Girvan 1963

 

Charles’ career was defined by groundbreaking moves and tireless attention to detail in brand development and packaging. The 1990s brought the launch of Hendrick’s Gin and Sailor Jerry Rum and later the company’s 30% investment in Highland Distillers, with Edrington, giving them a significant share in the ownership of Famous Grouse, Macallan, and Highland Park.

 

Charles became Chairman of the Company in the beginning of the new century, continuing to strive toward his core themes of quality, distribution, diversification, and innovation. In 2008, Charles became Life President, giving up Chairmanship to his nephew, Peter Gordon. With this shift, Charles could focus his efforts more broadly, while continuing to travel the world.

 

During his life, Charles experienced the kind of achievement and success that only determination, hard work, and ingenuity can bring. He was the father of three sons, grandfather to nine grandchildren and a loving husband, who spent the last years of his life sailing with his wife, Francesca. He will be remembered not just for the legacy of William Grant & Sons, but also for the strength of character that carried it so far.

 

Charles, February 2007

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