The Moodie Davitt Report brings you the latest instalment in our popular series Ten Easy Pieces*, in which we get up close and personal with leading travel retail personalities via ten snapshot questions.
In this edition we meet Loch Lomond Group Managing Director Global Travel Retail André de Almeida, the affable drinks specialist and Grêmio football club Consul for Scotland.
1. Where were you born and raised?
I am a proud gaúcho, born and raised in the south of Brazil, the oldest of four children, with two brothers and a sister. Due to my father’s career path working for different companies, we ended up moving around quite a lot, living in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and then in the capital, Brasilia.
As a child I remember being outdoors all the time, playing games with my brothers and friends. My love of football dates from then, playing until it was dark. We ran barefoot and didn’t worry about a thing.
2. You were 15 when your family relocated to Scotland. What prompted that move and how did you feel about it at the time?
I was a teenager when my father was offered, through sponsorship by the British Council, to do a PhD in Scotland. I felt like I had been picked up from sunny Brazil and dropped into a cold, dark place called Dundee.
Luckily I spoke English as a second language but nothing prepared me for the ‘shock’ of the Scottish accent. I still remember initially not understanding a single student at school, only the teachers. It was a very tough first year but you have to adapt and I believe I did just that quite quickly. I don’t think anyone at the school had ever met anyone from Brazil before so I was a bit of a novelty.
I was quite good at football and remember well the first time I went out to play in Dundee. I was young and naive, went to play in just my shorts and a T-shirt and oh it was bad. I’ve never been so cold in my life!
On the plus side, the PE teacher always picked me first for his football team. Another nice touch is that some of the students I met at school in my first year are still my friends today 26 years later.
3. When your family returned to Brazil you opted to stay in Scotland. Why?
At that point in time in my life, I felt it was time to come out from under my parents’ wing. I had received offers to study at universities in the UK and decided to make the most of the opportunity.
I chose to study at the University of Glasgow. It wasn’t easy and I had a string of part-time jobs there to get me through. I did some translating, worked at a call centre, and behind the bar at The Garage nightclub. I still remember watching Radiohead play there before they were famous.
At the same time, almost by chance, I ended up becoming involved in student politics. Initially I was driven by the desire to give something back and help other students in the same position as myself. As someone without any political party affiliations, I ran as an independent and ended up as the first person born outside of the Commonwealth to be elected Student President at Glasgow.
As a representative of students on campus, the council actively defended their interests within the university and also more widely. We fought for a fairer financial education system and against tuition fees through engagement with all relevant stakeholders, including the political parties. I am pleased that Scottish students today have access to free university tuition and I have no doubt the council played a significant role in the process.
What I learnt then, through dealings with people from different backgrounds and cultures, is something I still rely on today in my work across international markets.
4. How did you get involved with the drinks industry?
Basically that came about because I wanted to start a family! Armed with a degree in Biotechnology, and realising that laboratory work and research wasn’t really for me, I had left Glasgow for London to spend five years down south working for Procter & Gamble. It was a fantastic experience. I made many friends and, as a Category Manager, worked across a diverse product range.
During my time in London I married my Scottish-born wife, Gillian, whom I had met while still at university in Scotland. When we started talking about having a family, London suddenly seemed the wrong place to be. With my family the other side of the world, we realised that we had to return to Scotland to have the support of Gillian’s parents. So we moved back north and I joined Maxxium UK to be responsible initially for managing Tesco on their behalf. After three years I took over as Sales Controller of the Prestige Team, managing a large team and working with top-end bars across the UK and luxury retailers such as Harrods.
That eventually led to a position with The Edrington Group, which gave me my first taste of travel retail, and then I moved on to William Grant & Sons. They are both big companies, which allowed me to gain a real overview of what is involved in building a drinks brand and the role that different channels, including travel retail, play in this process.
5. What do you regard as your greatest challenge in your current position?
I have a relentless curiosity and desire for learning and self development and this inevitably means that I am attracted to new challenges. Loch Lomond Group approached me back in early 2016 to help bring their Glen Scotia and Loch Lomond scotch whiskies into global travel retail (GTR).
That was a challenge I just could not pass up, especially as it meant developing a GTR core range for both brands, creating their strategy and bringing it into action in the channel – all from a company and brands that the GTR retailers, at that point, had not heard about.
I am delighted to say that the overall reception and feedback from the trade to our GTR ranges across Loch Lomond and Glen Scotia scotch whiskies has been overwhelmingly positive since its launch in early 2017.This is due in no small part to the quality of the liquid inside the bottle, the GTR-specific packaging and the overall proposition from our brands.
World Duty Free quickly extended distribution across all World of Whisky stores in the UK, and growth has continued with listings elsewhere in Europe and across other regions, such as Asia and the Middle East. The challenge remains to continue to grow and develop the brands in the GTR channel.
6. There is also a ‘sideline’ to your work, isn’t there?
Indeed. I am an avid writer and blogger and have been writing blogs since 2015, initially through LinkedIn and, since last year, through my own website Inside the Cask. It’s about drinks, retail and travel and everything else in between.
One of the purposes of the blog is to help bring others back or into the drinks industry. I strongly believe in the principle of ‘paying forward’ and this is just one such way to do so. I am committed to sharing any job postings I come across via a ‘Latest Jobs’ page and, as expected, this is one of the most popular pages of the blog. I also feature jobs for some companies recruiting in exchange for a donation to The Benevolent, the drinks industry charity which aims to provide help and support to current and former employees of the drinks industry and their families.
The blog is a hobby; I make no financial gain from it. However, it does give me a platform to reach out and meet and speak to other people who are full of passion within this wonderful industry of ours.
7. Let’s talk football. What role does the sport play in your life?
Not surprisingly, as a Brazilian, I am passionate about football and a long-term fan of the Grêmio Foot-Ball Porto Alegrense Brazilian team. I love football, and play five-a-side although not as regularly as I would like to (the older I get the more difficult it becomes!). I intend to continue to play until I am told to stop, and perhaps only then I will consider taking up golf.
When I was finishing school I had a trial with a professional team in Scotland. Bad timing, bad luck, call it what you like, I got injured at the time and the opportunity was lost. When I was 18 I also got involved in coaching kids for a couple of years as a Soccer Counsellor at a summer camp in the USA and even took a Scottish FA coaching course.
I keep up with all the news on my Grêmio team. More importantly to me, I am the Consul for the team, which means that if they ever come to play in Scotland, they will contact me first for help locally.
8. You describe yourself as “Brazilian-Portuguese, with a hint of British”. Where do you consider home?
My heart is Brazilian and that is never going to change. From both my parents my heritage is Portuguese.
I’ve always been curious about my background and more often than not people think I am anything but Brazilian. Depending on where I am, they start talking to me in different languages, such as Greek, Turkish, Arabic, Spanish even Albanian.
For a long time I was convinced there was more to my background than it seemed so I took a genetic test and was rather surprised when the results came back. Nearly 100% Iberian. It wasn’t what I’d expected.
As the test showed, there is a hint of UK blood in me somewhere. Now, through my family, I have made new roots here in Scotland. It’s a strong, firm bond… and looks like I am here to stay.
9. What are your favourite destinations for business and pleasure and why?
As a Brazilian living in Scotland, I always go somewhere warm for holidays; Portugal, Spain or Brazil. I guess I just miss the sunshine too much given the lack of it living in the west of Scotland. There is a lot of rain here, which is great for making Scotch whisky, but less so for us living here.
In regards to business, I enjoy travelling and discovering new places and meeting people. There is always opportunity everywhere. Unfortunately most of the time I tend to only see the inside of airports and hotels rather than what my friends probably think I experience when travelling with work.
10. Is there an André de Almeida bucket list of must-do things?
No, I don’t have a bucket list (maybe later in my life I will have to start one). My top priority is my family. I value the weekends in particular as then I have more time with my wife Gillian and our two girls, Zara and Yasmin. We like to go for walks with our dog, Belle, but also relaxing by going to the cinema, for example. Both our girls are very much Scottish but I can see the Brazilian influence through their dancing, in particular.
The desire for more family time also applies to my extended family in Scotland, Brazil and beyond. Naturally I miss my family back in Brazil as we do not see each other as often as I’d like!
*PREVIOUSLY FEATURED TEN EASY PIECES PERSONALITIES INCLUDE: