Interview with Gary Brewer, head of compensation and benefits at William Grant and Sons

Gary Brewer, head of compensation and benefits at William Grant and Sons, has always juggled a variety of activities, and enjoys the wider professional perspective this brings

Gary Brewer is a busy man. Not content with a challenging new role as head of compensation and benefits at distillery firm William Grant and Sons, he finds time to look after his two young children, serve on the board of Motherwell College, chair the Scottish judging panel for the National Training Awards and has recently completed a masters degree in employment law.

Brewer says juggling all manner of activities has always been part of his life. And his list of professional qualifications runs into double figures.

“Time management is really important for me,” he says. “I started in full- time employment straight from school, so I have always juggled my whole life with studying and full-time employment. If you are going to keep up to date, I think it is healthy to maintain professional development and keep an awareness of what is going on outside your immediate area.”

Industrial relations

Having started his career in industrial relations before moving into a generalist HR role, Brewer believes reward professionals can benefit from having a wider perspective. “I am not sure a whole lifetime in the compensation and benefits sector is necessarily the way to go,” he says. “It might work for some, but I certainly feel the benefit of having had both generalist HR roles and non-HR roles.”

Brewer joined William Grant and Sons, which employs 1,200 staff globally, in December 2009 and is now responsible for developing and implementing reward strategy, including pensions. The company runs a defined benefit (DB) pension scheme, which is closed to new entrants, but Brewer says that unlike so many employers at the moment, there is no question of it being shut down completely.

International level

“Of course, we are having to look at the deficit, but we are not looking to move away from DB,” he explains. “We are just ensuring it is functioning as it should do.” Brewer’s current role also involves working closely with the firm’s global HR team. Working on an international level has been a theme throughout his career and is something of particular interest.

“The challenge is to learn about cultures and continue to develop,” he says. “I am encountering many countries for the first time. It does not matter whether it is China or Russia, I have an interest in understanding how the markets work there, and what the priorities are for working terms and conditions, and pay.”

Brewer says the key to being successful in his line of work is not just having great ideas, but being pragmatic in your approach. “Reward makes a definitive contribution to business performance and people’s lives, for that matter,” he says.

“It is fine to have some fairly lofty ideals about the theory of reward, but you have to make sure you exist in the real business world.”

Curriculum Vitae: Gary Brewer

2009-present head of compensation and benefits, William Grant and Sons.

2009 reward projects manager, BSkyB (interim role).

2006-2009 head of reward (divisional reward partner), Lloyds TSB/Scottish Widows. Also head of diversity for
Scottish Widows.

2004-2006 vice president HR, Aptuit (including roles as company director, Scotland and India).

1997-2004 various roles, Quintiles, ending as senior director, HR and information services and head of clinical services.


What is your favourite benefit?

I have to say variable pay. It can be quite divisive but, if done properly, it can be a great tool. I believe it still has
a big part to play in the UK.

Do you read management books?

I finished a law degree last summer, so I have had enough of books for now. I am more inclined to look at websites and trade magazines.

Do you have a role model?

I have worked with some great chief executives and HR directors, which matters to me day to day, especially those with a strong work ethic, integrity and who have succeeded for their employer.