Alex Robson launched The King of Soho gin in 2013 with business partner Howard Raymond.
Alex and Howard’s authentic, quadruple distilled London Dry Gin has seen triple digital growth since it’s launch and is now stocked in over 500 multinational retailers.
The brand is distributed in Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic and Japan.
WeAreTheCity sat down with Alex to discuss the bravery of businesswomen, sexual harassment and embracing the ‘boring’ side of business!
How did you get into business and specifically the Gin industry?
Business is part of my DNA; both my mother and grandfather on my paternal side were entrepreneurs. As I was growing up, they were powerful examples of creativity and foresight.
My mother ran a printing and publishing business which she inherited from her father, and this was at a time when women did not work in commerce. Each summer from the age of 11, I would work in the business for 50p an hour. She started me off in the finance department. It was good grounding and I learnt the importance of sound financial control.
I studied Economic History at University and after a brief flirtation with the City decided that a more travelled and less conventional route was for me. My career has spanned from shipping in Russia, supply chain management in Holland to business consultancy in London. I had the privilege to work on a space project for one of the few men who have actually walked on the Moon, David Scott, Commander of Apollo 15.
“I’ve touched moon dust, not a lot of people can say that!”
How did I get into the gin industry? Well, like all the best ideas it came to us, in situ, over a gin martini with a business plan written on the back of a match box.
My business partner is Howard Raymond, the son of Paul Raymond, the original ‘King of Soho’. It was just before anyone realised that the ‘gin renaissance’ had started and we had been looking at a gin company. After doing the analysis we decided that whilst that particular brand was not quite right for us, the industry was. Gin had been the drink of both our fathers, so there was an emotional pull; it was not long after Paul’s death and we decided what better way to celebrate his life and the district of London which he reigned over for so many years than to create a spirit in his honour.
Soho is about fun, gin is about fun – it seemed logical to us at the time.
How do you maintain a work-life balance? Any tips for our readers?
At the moment it seems to be with great difficulty!
When the King of Soho Gin was launched 4 years ago it was stocked in 14 bars in central London and Gerry’s Wine & Spirits in Soho.
In the past 12 months we have gone into over 500 multinational retailers’ outlets and premium bars across the country and seen a year of triple digit growth.
As you can appreciate, recently it’s been hard to keep that balance, as I am so focused on the gin. ‘Going Out’, having a martini and keeping up with the industry is part of the job.
I like to have half an hour to myself in the morning to empty my brain – some people do this with meditation but I do it by drinking tea and news channel flicking. I try to go to the gym 3 times a week, this is how I zone out. I never do more than 10 minutes on the running machine as I like to be kind to my knees. The rest is light weights and stretching with moves I’ve adapted from yoga.
My tip is to do what works for you.
“It’s normal for work-life to get out of balance and when it does, don’t stress it, just figure out how to rein it back in and set a realistic timeframe in which to do that.”
What does being a ‘female boss’ mean to you?
I think I might quote Helen Reddy here, as sung in Sex and the City 2:-
“I am woman hear me roar, In numbers too big to ignore, And I know too much to go back an’ pretend”
Sexual harassment stories have been prevalent in the press recently. Can you share any experience of sexism or harassment in the industry?
I can think of a couple of incidents in my career where the behaviour of a man, higher up the ladder than me who should have known better, was inappropriate, so I can relate. Nowadays, that behaviour would be labelled harassment. At the time, I just tried as best as I could to shut it down, and in one case, if I am being honest, it was a contributory, but not the sole, factor in me moving on.
“I think we are at a cross roads on sexual harassment and we have to be careful that the pent-up anger and frustration from the past does not make the work place today too onerous an environment.”
How do you create change as a woman in the industry?
You create change by working hard and succeeding. It’s important to be part of the industry and not just the business. I join associations, committees and go to events.
By being part of an industry, contributing to it, you can have a voice and it will be heard.
You can’t create change from the outside.
How have you navigated being a successful businesswoman with this cultural conditioning that tells women how they should behave, look and act?
I am the youngest of 8 children and I grew up surrounded by strong Northern women, so I do not look at life this way, this was not how I was conditioned or nurtured. I was brought up in an environment where women supported and empowered each other. I am a bit of a free spirit, I have travelled and lived for long periods in different countries and experienced different cultures. All this has helped me navigate the challenges of life.
I have sought out places like Soho where diversity, creativity and individualism are embraced.
Who do you look up to in the industry? Tell us about your role models.
Charles Maxwell, an 11th generation master distiller: he joined the family gin business in 1976. His family’s love affair with gin began in the 1680s which was around the same time the name ‘Soho’ was first coined by the 1st Duke of Monmouth, so it was only natural that we should ask Charles to craft our bespoke King of Soho London Dry Gin.
His distillery can be found in central London and this was important to us, as not every London dry gin is distilled in London.
Charles is also a director of the Gin Guild and a bit of a legend in the industry. He has been incredibly supportive and encouraging of my gin journey, a mentor with a fountain of knowledge who I greatly admire.
What advice would you have for young women looking to start their own business?
Starting your own business is an act of bravery and I have great admiration for anyone taking that leap of faith, big or small. So my advice would be for anyone really. You need to be focused and really quite determined as there is always somebody happy to tell you why you cannot do it that way or distract you from your path. You need to learn to decipher ‘sound’ from noise.
Know what your business will look like, research, do a mood board if that helps and then write up a plan, even if it’s just headings. Timeline, cost it and make sure you have the finances in place to execute it. Don’t forget about the boring stuff, i.e. compliance and regulations, it’s not all launch parties and beautiful people. Once you reach Stage One, don’t forget to be dynamic in future planning, whilst keeping your target in sight.
What nobody tells you is how you will evolve and grow as a person too, sometimes it can be quite a lonely path. Tenacity and belief in one’s self are key.
“Never forget how to make ‘the tea’. Or, in my case, ‘the Gin & Tonic’.”
The King of Soho is available to buy in Asda, Morrisons, Ocado, Oddbins, Costco, Fortnum & Mason, Harrods, selected independent retailers across the country and on Amazon
WeAreTheCity were lucky enough to get our hands on a bottle of The King of Soho gin to review.
The citrus, zesty flavours come together nicely and create a complex but smooth gin. Great on the rocks, excellent in a Tom Collins and comes in a colourful, vibrant bottle that would make a great addition to any shelf.
The King of Soho gin would make a great addition to your work’s Christmas party!