A chemist by trade, Lesley Gracie moved from Yorkshire to Scotland to join William Grant & Sons in 1988.
Working in collaboration with Charles Gordon, the late life president of William Grant & Sons, Lesley Gracie was tasked with creating a gin that used two antique stills – a rare Carter-Head and 19th Century Bennet. Working out of Hendrick’s home in the Girvan distillery, Gracie is just one of four people who know the specific recipe of the quirky gin brand’s 11 botanicals.
She leads the New Liquid Development Team within William Grant & Sons and also holds positions in both the Gin Guild and ISC tasting panel for white spirits. Gracie has also created experimental products that sit alongside the Hendrick’s brand, including quinninated cordial Quinetum and most recently Hendrick’s Kanaracuni Gin, which saw her join an expedition to the Venezuelan rainforest in search of new flavours.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
My degree is in Chemistry and I started work for a pharmaceutical company in Hull based in the analytical laboratory for the Research and Development function. The company was developing new and novel drugs, some of which were very unpleasant to taste. Therefore a lot of work was done to try and mask the flavour to enable people to be able to take the products. This involved looking at different flavouring agents and carriers to cover the base flavour of the drug. I found to be a fascinating part of the role and one in which I learnt a lot about flavour compatability.
In 1988 I moved to Scotland and started work with William Grants in the Analytical Laboratory. The lab also covered new liquid development work which I became involved with due to my experience of flavour work from my previous role. This element of the role increased as the company moved towards greater emphasis on new products until my role now is almost entirely new product development covering all different spirit types and product types.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I can honestly say that I never planned to be a gin distiller. It was one of those lucky opportunities that came along when the then Company Chairman asked for the development of a new gin. He was a very astute character and had very specific ideas as to the required flavour profile of the new product. This development work also allowed me to use my interest in plants and understand the complex character of natural products and how to balance flavours derived from them.
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
In terms of being female I have not faced any specific challenges and have always worked in environments where contribution and results are far more important than gender.
On a typical workday, how does you start your day and how does it end?
The day generally starts with a review of ongoing projects and the next required steps. Preparation of new formulations and comparative assessments with previous samples is an ongoing theme during the day alongside the quality assessment of new and novel ingredients, in process and final production samples. These are always interspaced with the necessary evil of emails.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you ever had a mentor or do you mentor anyone?
At the start of my career there was a particular manager who was instrumental in my approach to all tasks. He was a firm believer that experience was the best teacher therefore I was encouraged to carry out my own investigation into problematic situations and then discuss them with him. Personally I think this approach encourages self-development through natural curiosity and gives experience to allow problem solving in different situations.
If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?
The only thing that I would change is the individual’s self-belief that performing to the best of one’s ability will always produce results.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I have been very lucky to work with good people on great brands and really enjoy my job.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
The challenges keep on coming with requests for different products in line with world trends. This always involves a significant of research and learning and I just hope that I can continue to develop products which people enjoy.
Do you have any advice for women in the workplace, that you wish someone had told you?
Simply if you want it… go for it