William Grant and Sons ensures tasty reward package

Distiller William Grant and Sons is keen for its staff to enjoy the flavour of their reward package

William Grant and Sons started distilling whisky in 1887, when the first Glenfiddich single malt ran from its stills on Christmas Day. The family-owned business then comprised William Grant and his five sons. Today, the company has more than 1,600 staff across 30 countries, working on six core brands and producing 14 million cases of alcohol a year at its bottling plant in Bellshill, Scotland.

A reward and benefits strategy has been evolved over the years to meet the needs of the growing business, culminating in a raft of changes in 2011 that propelled William Grant and Sons onto the shortlist in three categories at the Employee Benefits Awards 2012: ‘Most effective alignment of reward strategy to business strategy for organisations with fewer than 1,000 employees’; ‘Most effective reward or benefits strategy for staff based outside the UK’; and ‘Most effective total reward strategy’.

Gary Brewer, head of reward and organisational development for William Grant and Sons, says: “While most other companies have been withdrawing or reducing benefits, there has been the opposite trend here. We have enhanced a lot of what we have, not because we were at a low point before, but because we want to be competitive. We are not actually the biggest company in our sector, so what we offer is more immediate responsibility, more variety, a real sense of personal input and personal recognition along the way.”

The biggest change to William Grant and Sons’ benefits package in 2011 was a full-scale review and overhaul of its pension arrangements, which comprise defined benefit (DB) and defined contribution (DC) schemes.

The DB scheme has been closed to new entrants since October 2006 and has 600 active members. It has a deficit, which the company has under control since making a lump-sum contribution in December 2011. Further contributions will be made in the form of rental income from leasing the distiller’s warehouses. Brewer says: “This provides the pension scheme with rental income and, at the end of the predetermined period [2027], the scheme will no longer receive rental payments.”

William Grant and Sons introduced a group personal pension (GPP) plan, which now has 360 active members, in February 2007, matching employee contributions up to a maximum of 10%.

After last year’s review, the organisation managed to negotiate a reduction in its GPP annual management charge from 0.48% to 0.40% with provider Standard Life. The review also resulted in the creation of a dedicated online pensions website and governance committee, improved investment choices for scheme members and the introduction of financial education seminars.

Brewer says: “There is a lot of publicity at the moment about the governance of DC schemes. In investment choices, about 95% of staff opt for the default fund, but we did a lot of work last year on financial education.”

Targeted pension presentations

The seminars, which took place at the distiller’s Bellshill, Hook and Richmond sites, were led by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Group presentations were followed by targeted presentations for GPP members covering the pensions website and the new investment choices.

Brewer adds: “We always take the long-term view, which is a hallmark of the company’s paternalistic heritage, that it is appropriate for staff to make provision for their own retirement. And if they are going to do it, they should do it in a knowing fashion.”

The GPP’s investment structure used to be three-tiered, with a default option, a core fund range and all remaining funds. It now also has a lifestyle tier containing three risk-rated lifestyle strategies: a default balanced profile, an adventurous profile and a cautious profile.

With a staging date in the latter part of 2013, the company is now looking to ensure its GPP is compliant for auto-enrolment, which begins for the largest organisations in October this year.

Any changes made to its benefits and reward package are designed to reflect the Grant values: be better, be enthusiastic, be accountable, be supportive and be pioneering.

These values, combined with employees’ function and geography, and company and individual performance, also help to determine the firm’s bonus scheme, which is paid annually to all staff as a percentage of base pay.

The values are also reinforced in the distillery’s recognition scheme, Stand Fast, which each year rewards an employee in each of the five value categories. The winners, who are nominated by colleagues and line managers, are awarded a trip. In 2011, the winners were flown to London in a package that included a gala dinner, accommodation and £150 prize money. William Grant and Sons also donated £500 to a charity of the winners’ choice.

Creative competition for employees

The scheme is one of a number the organisation runs to engage staff. Last year, it promoted its Glenfiddich whisky with a creativity competition for employees. Entries ranged from paintings to poetry to a rap, but the winning entry was a painted Scrabble board with the featured words associated with the whisky. The prize was a £4,000 travel package.

“Competitions like this come up every once in a while, generally around a particular brand,” says Brewer. “These schemes, and the bonus, are available to staff across the globe.”

In line with Grant’s focus of promoting its own brands as part of its benefits offering, all staff receive a product allowance of 24 points a year, which they can exchange for products. Brewer says: “For instance, a bottle of Grant’s blended whisky is worth a point and a bottle of Hendrick’s gin is worth a couple of points. When there are new products, miniatures are given out to staff to try or keep as a souvenir.”

With a wide variety of employees across the organisation, from its head office to distilleries to bottling plants to distribution centres, William Grant and Sons uses a range of communications, including employee briefings and forums, the company intranet, line manager and team briefings, and flyers. It also has three employee engagement surveys a year, and the latest had a response rate of 86%.

In 2011, it launched a Best Place to Work initiative that led to 287 employee suggestions on how to make the workplace even better. Of these, 67% have been approved for implementation. Brewer says: “We have a very stable and loyal workforce, and I think that is because there is a lot of effort going in to make it a great place to work.”

William Grant and Sons at a glance

William Grant and Sons is a Scottish distillery that produces whisky brands including Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Grant’s and Tullamore Dew, as well as Hendrick’s gin and Sailor Jerry rum.

Founded by William Grant in 1887, it is now run by the fifth generation of the Grant Gordon family. Based in Bellshill, near Glasgow, it has 1,600 staff and sells its brands in 200 countries. Its 2011 reported turnover was £1 billion.

Almost 1,000 employees work in distilleries, bottling plants and distribution centres across Bellshill, Dufftown and Girvan in Scotland, Hook and Richmond in England, Clonmel in Ireland, and in 30 global locations.

Gary Brewer, head of reward and organisational development, says: “The challenges vary in each area, depending on how well known the brands are and the consumer population.”

Grant products go down well with staff

Lynn Harvey, service team leader at William Grant and Sons, is responsible for the team that resolves the firm’s global information technology issues.

She has been with the distiller for almost 20 years, and chairs its Best Place to Work group, which was established for employees to develop ideas on how to make the organisation the best place to work.

Among the benefits on offer, Harvey appreciates the private medical insurance scheme, which she used for a knee operation five years ago.

The annual bonus has also come in handy over the years. She says: “I have used that in a variety of ways, from paying off overdrafts to the nicer things in life, like holidays.”

Access to William Grant and Sons’ products is also a benefit that helps save money. “I tend to stock up on a monthly basis and use them as part of my Christmas gifts,” says Harvey. “It is amazing how my friends and family now always look forward to this little treat during the festive season.”

Career history: Gary Brewer

Gary Brewer, head of reward and organisational development at William Grant and Sons, has been with the firm since 2009, when he joined as head of reward. The organisational development aspect of his role was added in 2011.

With more than 30 years’ industry experience, his previous roles include: interim reward projects manager at BSkyB; head of reward at Lloyds TSB/Scottish Widows; vice-president of HR at Aptuit; senior director of HR, information services and head of clinical services at Quintiles; head of personnel and training at Livingston Development Corporation; and various personnel and industrial relations roles at ScotRail.

Brewer is also business partner for the distiller’s operations in Australia, parts of Asia and Latin America. He says: “It has been a steep learning curve in understanding the employment environment in those countries. It adds to the richness and variety of the role.”

Outside the company, Brewer sets up employment tribunals, which stems from his two degrees: a Master’s in Law and a Master’s in Industrial Relations.


Pension scheme

• A defined benefit (DB) scheme was closed to new entrants in October 2006. It has about 600 members.
• A group personal pension (GPP), introduced in February 2007, currently has 360 members and matched contributions from the employer of up to 10%.

Healthcare and group risk

• A private medical insurance (PMI) scheme is available to all employees. Senior staff (about 200) can include their families.
• A health cash plan is available for all employees.
• An onsite occupational health programme.
• Employee assistance programme (EAP).
• Group life cover is available at four-times salary.

Flexible-working arrangements

• Compressed hours for employees who work shift patterns.
• Flexible working arrangements for office staff.
• Office closes at 2.30pm on Fridays for office staff.

Onsite facilities

• Subsidised canteen, a Costa coffee shop and free fruit every day.
• The canteen also features a pool table and a flat-screen television.


• Annual performance-related bonus available to all staff as a percentage of base pay.


• Holiday buy and sell, up to five days a year.

Other benefits

• Childcare vouchers.
• Up to 24 points to exchange for free William Grant and Sons products each year.
• Recognition programme.

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