The Scotch whisky and premium gin based arm of Pernod Ricard are in the midst of their 2017 intake, with the Programme, now in its third year, offering graduates the chance to take on an international career with the opportunity to be posted to any number of continents around the world from North and South America to Europe, Africa and Asia.
During the two-year programme, graduates work as brand ambassadors for some of the world’s most recognisable spirit brands including Chivas Regal, The Glenlivet, Ballantine’s and Beefeater, which are enjoyed by millions around the world.
Alex Robertson, Graduate and Brand Development Manager at Chivas Brothers, believes the programme is vital for the future of the company: “Our graduate programme is immensely valuable to our business and enables us to continue developing a highly skilled workforce for the future.
"Our graduates become a key part of our team on the ground and the scheme enables them to develop a wide skill set for our industry."
Alex believes the scheme is not only beneficial to Chivas and parent company Pernod Ricard, but also to the drinks industry as a whole, he adds: “Attracting talent is not only important to our business but also to the spirits industry as a whole.
"Whilst our Scotch whisky and gin brands have a rich heritage, we’re always on the look out for new ideas that can help us to connect with and inspire our customers. We find that our graduates bring a fresh outlook and a different perspective, which is hugely valuable and helps inject a new dynamic into our existing workforce and brands.”
The International Graduate Programme has been designed to provide a solid foundation in the drinks industry, with the potential to develop into a lifelong career with Chivas Brothers and Pernod Ricard.
“What really sets our International Graduate Programme apart is that we offer our graduates real responsibility from day one. They’ll learn a diverse range of skills, with the opportunity to work abroad and fully immerse themselves in a new business and culture. We encourage our graduates to be really creative by getting them to work on campaigns and events that bring our brands to life.
“We want our graduates to take charge of their careers and be proud of everything they achieve. This means it’s not just about sitting on the side lines – we encourage them to step out of their comfort zone, throw themselves into tasks and really challenge themselves. These ‘defining moments’ are created by the graduates themselves and could involve delivering a presentation in Spanish to local whisky experts or watching their product take pride of place in a top bar in New York.”
All graduates start with a five-week intensive training programme in the UK where they learn about Scotch whisky and British gins from the best in the business.
The graduates will then play a vital role in winning share of mind for the company’s brands by inspiring and engaging customers and trade contacts, delivering innovative education sessions, events and social media campaigns as well as working alongside sales teams, bar professionals and consumers to build strong relationships.
Harry Daffern is currently based in Shanghai, China and started his career in Bangkok, Thailand. He said: “The Chivas Brothers team was really supportive, so right from the word go I felt prepared to work in a new market. During the two years I was working in Bangkok, I helped to launch Chivas Regal Extra.
"Thailand was the second country in the world, and the first country in Asia, to introduce this new edition so I’m extremely proud to have been part of it.
“As a Brand Ambassador, you need to be enthusiastic, passionate, confident, and entrepreneurial. The programme provides a fantastic opportunity to really immerse yourself in the drinks industry and I’d definitely recommend applying.”
Paul O'Connor, who is currently enjoying his first three months of his role as Ballantine's ambassador in Dehli, India, learned about the programme while working for world-famous whisky bar, the Potstill in Glasgow, he said: "A few people who work in the bar industry in Glasgow had told me about it and I realised I had to apply, the opportunity to travel and work in such a fun industry was my dream job."
Paul admits that he realised how special the placement was after sharing a drink with boss Alex in the Dorchester in London.
"I remember speaking to Alex about how at the time, how being there felt like another world and he replied to me, 'this is the world you now work in'. It was in that moment I realised how special this opportunity was.
"From day one the training was amazing, you are literally just immersed in the culture of whisky and the convivial ethos of the company. You come out of the other side even more passionate about it all."
The graduate from Stepps in Glasgow, admits he was nervous when he was initially asked about taking up a placement in India, particularly as he wasn't sure he had made the grade.
"My first thought was that I didn't like spicy food, which seems daft now as I have been here just over three months and it has been amazing, India has such a vibrant and diverse culture.
"At first it seemed quite daunting but for me, the thought of sitting at a desk 9-5 was much scarier than upping sticks and coming to India."
Bangkok and Delhi are part of a growing list of places the graduates are sent, the programme now has a total of 44 ambassadors in 24 countries around the world from places like South Africa to Brazil and the US.
Some of the graduates are even encouraged to remain in the home of whisky and continue to build the brand here.
James Cordiner, whose brother Mathew is a second year Graduate Brand Ambassador for Chivas Regal in Miami, Florida, applied to join the course in 2016 and is now a brand ambassador for Chivas based in Edinburgh.
"I found out about the programme when it was first advertised in 2013 and I was working with Chivas Brothers in my 3rd year as a heritage guide at The Glenlivet and Strathisla.
"I already had a passion for the whiskies and knew it was a great company to work for, so once completing my masters at Glasgow University I applied for the position this year."
"I have been based in the UK for just over three months now and am thoroughly enjoying it. Every day has something new to offer and it is great meeting people who share a love for whisky and also introducing new people to Scotland's favourite drink across the country."
James is glad to be based in Scotland as it allows him to travel home up to Speyside for the weekend or over to Glasgow for a night out with friends whenever he wants.
"The only downside of the UK really, is the weather. Especially when you see all the pictures from the ambassadors out in Thailand, Mexico, India and the Dominican Republic."
Both James and Paul have only positive feedback about the programme and agree with boss Alex when it comes to discussing why they think it is important for the future of the company.
James believes it is a great way to "bring fresh ideas and energy into a company and helps communicate the visions of Chivas Brothers on a global scale".
He agrees that schemes such as this one can only be positive for the industry as a whole.
"Trends are constantly changing and the whisky community hast to keep being innovative to capture the hearts of a younger generation.
"Whisky producers are realising that younger adults are aspiring to drink whisky as well. Here in Scotland there are now seven student whisky societies. When I was president of the Glasgow University Malt Whisky Society in 2014 you would get around 20 people at a tasting. Now the club regularly has over 100 in a night and last year spent over £7,000 on whisky."
Paul believes it's important for big businesses like this to cultivate the "next generation of whisky professionals".
"I think it's vitally important in such a dynamic industry to learn form the heritage but also encourage innovation! This program does just that. It gives our ambassadors the opportunity and platform to affect the industry of tomorrow."
There's a real sense of pride in the Programme itself not just from the graduates but the man at the top too.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to watch the graduates develop and succeed throughout their time on the scheme," Alex explains.
"For most, this is their first role after leaving university and I take great pride in watching them flourish. The programme teaches them skills for life and helps them to increase their knowledge of the drinks industry, all whilst building a strong international network. I look forward to seeing many of our graduates pursue a lifelong career in Chivas Brothers, Pernod Ricard.”
So what does Alex, and by extension Chivas Brothers, look for in their ideal candidate?
“The programme is designed to challenge the graduates and offers them real responsibility from day one. Because of this, we look for candidates that have lots of energy, are driven and have an entrepreneurial spirit.
"At the same time they’ll need to build strong international relationships which requires an ability to network and present information in a compelling and creative way.
“As brand ambassadors, their role will be to inspire and engage customers and the trade about our brands, so it’s important for them to be imaginative and passionate about the drinks industry. It’s great if they have a business degree and language skills as the scheme allows opportunities to travel abroad. It’s important for candidates to be interested in becoming immersed in a new culture and be willing to finesse their language skills.”
And would graduates like Paul, who are now the future of the company, recommend others to take on the challenge of fitting that mould?
"I definitely encourage other graduates to apply, they won't regret it. It seems pretty challenging at first but really it's like joining a family business, and I suppose it is, just a little larger than most."