My first boss: Ian McCulloch, former ITV commercial director, on motor trading and selling gin

My first boss: Ian McCulloch, former ITV commercial director, on motor trading and selling gin
Ian McCulloch was set on a gin journey in 2013 and two years later set up in the Surrey Hills. Photo: John Powell/Silent Pool Distillers

Ian McCulloch joined London Weekend Television in 1980 and left as ITV commercial director in 2007. He is founding director of Silent Pool Distillers, which is sustainably made in the Surrey Hills.

Launched in 2015, Silent Pool is now the largest UK-produced super premium gin over £35, exports to 35 countries and the company is well into double-digit growth.

Cyril Simson was a big man, Jewish and an old school motor trader and sales director at Guy Salmon in Thames Ditton. He had been around for years, was very funny and a ruthless dealer.

In 1978, I was hired as a forecourt manager. I wore jeans and an MA-1 green flight jacket and my job was to make sure the stock was cleaned and serviced.

Cyril used to go motor racing in his formative years. He would leave work on a Friday afternoon and drive over to the Nurburgring, swap to racing tyres, and then arrive back at work for 9am on Monday morning.

Then it would be time for the dealers to come in with high-end stock and park it in the front. What it also meant, aged 18, was that I could jump into a Jensen Interceptor or Ferrari and blow the oil off the plugs on the A3.

Read more: My first boss: British tea mixologist Krisi Smith

Cyril used to buy stock at incredibly low prices. If it was booked in Glass’s Guide [the record book of traders and retails] at, say £6,000, Cyril would stand there and look at the traders and bid £2,500. All hell would then break loose.

A lesson learned is don’t feel as if you are going to insult someone; drag it out to the last minute and be prepared to walk away from it. Cyril was prepared to walk away from deals, while traders knew that he was a buyer and simply not messing around.

He knew his market and we were relatively upmarket with the likes of Jaguar and Daimler. Sometimes you were left thinking ‘Have I just heard Cyril say that?’ He brazoned it out, saying things like ‘cash flow is tight, I’ll give you this for it.’ They would be outraged and he would do it by false personality. If they kicked off and you crumbled, going forward you were sunk.

Ian McCulloch came relatively late to the gin explosion, launching Silent Pool in 2015. Photo: Silent Pool Distillers
Ian McCulloch came relatively late to the gin explosion, launching Silent Pool in 2015. Photo: Silent Pool Distillers

After two years at Guy Salmon, I turned up to London Weekend Television (LWT) as a junior sales assistant in the advertising department.

After first working under Cyril, life has turned full circle for me and I now buy media space with Silent Pool Gin after 30 years selling it. By 2007, the regime had turned too far at ITV.

And so I started what was a slow-down project when I had a ‘road to Damascus’ dinner with the neighbours one night where I was set on a gin journey. Two years later, in 2015, I had launched Silent Pool Gin.

I didn’t go to university and always wanted to earn money. I had two newspaper rounds and a Saturday job in a jean shop in Kingston, an era where super tight jeans were everything and we were on commission.

Read more: My first boss: Reggae Reggae Sauce entrepreneur Levi Roots

I’ve always been into selling or on the sales’ side. You are often not selling the functional benefit of the product, you are selling an emotion and the heart. ITV made all its money out of drama and engaging with the characters, while now we don’t make and sell gin because people are thirsty, we do it because people have fun with friends.

We make a complex, layered spirit. There is a lot to it; it engages people and it’s been a lot of fun.

For more on Silent Pools’ spirits and tours head to www.silentpooldistillers.com

Watch: The risks of buying now and paying later