Alumni Interview - Iain Stirling of Arbikie
Tell us about Arbikie:
Can you sum up the company in less than 10 words?
Single-estate distiller of super-premium, farm to bottle spirits.
What motivated you to start up Arbikie?
The opportunity to build a generational family business producing super-premium spirits with true provenance that can be sold across the world.
When was the company established?
Was it an easy decision to go into business with your brothers?
Yes, we have differing, complementary skills and we’ve all been part of our family farming business from birth.
Why Arbikie over other premium vodka brands?
We create world-class spirits with a true single-estate provenance. Our Arbikie Vodka recently won ‘Best Vodka’ at the Paris Cocktail Spirits Awards.
What is a little known secret about this business that customers wouldn’t know?
Our father was given the farm where the distillery is when he was 20 and spent the next 60 years building a substantial farming business with my mother, before handing it over to us.
You have spent a lot of time working abroad, particularly in the US:
Tell us a little about your background.
After University, I had what is described as a ‘Portfolio Career’ where I gained a lot of experience and knowledge working for a range of corporates, including Diageo, Jim Beam, Marks & Spencer and Volkswagen Group, before setting up businesses with my brothers, David and John.
How does your international experience support your current work?
Although we initially focused on the UK, we are now building internationally and my experience and my brother’s experiences help us to both focus and be ambitious in our target markets.
You have set up more than one business:
What have been the biggest challenges for you as an entrepreneur?
There are many, including the change from working in ‘corporate-land’ to self-employment, along with keeping a business financed as you grow. Thankfully, my brother John is an experienced international financier and CA, so keeps us right financially. Finding people who are on the same wavelength and you can trust can also challenging, hence why we favour doing business with PLU’s (People like us) and these are often family businesses.
Are these challenges specific to the industry type, or are they recurring?
I think they are similar for most businesses, where issues such as on-going financing is always difficult; having the right people at the right time is ever-changing and not having the opportunity to talk to fellow entrepreneurs or a mentor can be frustrating.
You came on School for CEOs’ first ever Vital Few programme:
How was your experience on the programme?
I thought it was great. A very enjoyable experience, with lots of learning and meeting some great people doing similar things across a range of industries.
What has been your most valuable take-away?
Difficult to say, but I’m always a fan of building your network and School for CEOs is building an excellent Alumni.