I’ve just had lunch with the guy who invented Baileys, and it was a masterclass.
‘But that was forty years ago Karl.’
Some months back I was due to give a talk at an Innovation event in Cong, co. Mayo. I was told with a degree of ceremony, David Gluckman would speaking at the event. Great, I thought, who’s David Gluckman? Well, it turned out I missed David’s talk but throughout the event, people kept asking me had I ‘heard David’s talk,’ and ‘wasn’t it amazing.’ I was still wondering, ‘who’s David Gluckman?’ Eventually I found out, David Gluckman is the guy who invented Bailey’s. He’s also the guy who has written, ‘That Shit Will Never Sell,’ which to my mind is the greater achievement of the two, and I really like Baileys.
Being the precocious character I am, I sought David out through his LinkedIn account, and connected. I explained we had missed each other at Cong but I had heard nothing but positive reports about his talk. David replied, ‘Hi Karl, Pity we missed each other. It would be good to catch up some time. Have a look at my book's website to get an idea of my approach. It's different.’ So, I did, and I immediately bought the book. And then, out of the blue, four months later, ‘Hi Karl, I may be in Dublin at the beginning of March. If you’re around I’d love to meet up.’ So, we did.
To say David Gluckman is the guy who invented Baileys is an understatement of astounding proportions. On the first scan through the book it became clear that David has been involved in the design and development of an incredible range of products, Baileys, Sheridan’s, Le Piat d’Or, Aqua Libra, Tanqueray… The list goes on, and on! I was intrigued.
Three things struck me very quickly, the first being, how genuinely readable the book is. It’s actually a properly enjoyable read. This is the kind of book that could, and probably should spawn a TV series, one-part Mad Men, one-part The Office and I’m feeling some of The Professionals in there too. (is TV even still a thing?) The characters are colourful, the scenes are set with clarity. It is an oddly visual book, you get a clear sense of the space each character inhabits and the diverse personalities filling those spaces. David is a skilled storyteller, maybe that explains the success of the brands he has invented, and quite possibly the rave reviews of his talk.
The second most striking point evident in the book, and then in person, is his modesty. I mentioned to David that I felt during his account of the processes of design and development on a number of products, he fails to fully acknowledge his own incredible level of insight, in terms of product knowledge, industry knowledge and customer awareness. In the book, David occasionally passes situations off as being coincidence or luck. This is far from the truth of the situation. Repeatedly, there is evidence in the book that shows just how engaged David is with his surroundings. Over lunch we talked about a drink and I had to point out to David how he’d drawn together a diverse range of experiences, separated by months and years, a bottle he’d seen out of the corner of his eye in a distillery in France, a piece of wrapping on a table in Spain, a word overheard in a conversation in London, all divided in time by months and years. This is a skill many people don’t possess, it’s something I try to develop in my clients. I mention it in my own writing, active curiosity and active engagement. David has that, he has trained and developed it to a level that has served him incredibly well.
The third, and possibly the most industry specific element that stands out in the book is David’s insistence on selectivity. Following his prototyping and engagement with focus groups, which are worth reading the book for alone, he offers the rhetorical question, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘why present a client with a range of ideas, they are hiring you to be selective on their behalf, they are relying on your skills and knowledge.’ As a lecturer I was constantly insisting that a good essay showed evidence of selectivity, now I work through divergent thinking processes whereby we generate multiple ideas and answers to a problem and then into a convergent thinking process to help clients achieve a point where they can engage their selectivity. David and I agreed that it’s easier to give lots of answers,
but it’s a skilled author or professional who refines and gives the right or best answer.
If David were American or less modest, he’d be a George Lois. If he were 25 today, he would be an unstoppable online influencer, I have no doubt about that. To my mind, he still could and should be, if only he were willing to brand himself. There are people dining out on infinitely less than David has achieved, but David says it’s only right that the product should be more famous than the inventor or designer, tell that to Calvin Klein or Tommy Hilfiger was my response. Knowledge aside, which David almost shrugs off as, ‘Yes, maybe it’s experience,’ David is an incredible communicator, both as a writer and speaker.
Of course, the account of Baileys is interesting, because it’s Baileys, it is the world’s no.1 selling liqueur brand, selling 82 million bottles every year, but it’s also a deeply human story presented in the book. It comes down to two guys sitting in an office, generating ideas, prototyping on the cheap and taking chances. I especially love David’s colourful descriptions of the prototypes of drinks he developed, so real and imaginative, and occasionally confusing. There are successes and failures in this book which is something that should resonate with anybody who considers themselves an entrepreneur or innovator. David talks vividly and informatively about 'the brief,' and the panic that inspires thinking and ideas.
David has taken risks, my particular favourite from that bracket was the outright rejected Watney’s ‘Sour Mash’ Bitter. Speaking to David on this product, he suggests that people should be trained in business not just to have ideas, but to also buy ideas. He’s so clear in his thinking about this missed opportunity, in particular the role of words in framing or creating expectation for a product. As somebody who has a developed appreciation for language, throughout the book I was repeatedly delighted to see reference to ‘creating a new vocabulary’ for specific products. The kind of detailed consideration David gives to his products is a genuine pleasure to encounter, don’t just print ‘serve cold’ on a bottle, say ‘Beautiful Chilled.’
What appeals to me most about this book, from an industry and innovation point of view is that it’s all there. There is so much detail, but the learning is presented in a palatable and accessible manner. David’s willingness to take risks, his belief in the power and value of the product and the vital relationship between brand and product, all combine to give the reader a unique insight into his process.
This is a book full of insights, ideas and inspiration. Speaking to David reminded me a little of the time I saw Bowie at Glastonbury. If anyone had asked me was I a fan, I'd have said no, but during that concert I became aware of the range of Bowie songs I loved. Before reading this book, I had no idea how many products that David Gluckman had been involved with that I loved, including Purdey's, which was one of my favourites. If you had no interest in the world of entrepreneurship, branding, product design and development, or innovation, I would still recommend this book, because at its most basic, it’s a book about a guy trying, failing, succeeding, living and thinking. If you happen to have an interest in the above list, read this book immediately, you will not be sorry.
If you have an opportunity to hear David Gluckman speak, or attend one of his masterclasses or webinars do it, the guy is an encyclopedia of information. I’m not easily impressed, today I am.
The book is available through the website and on Amazon
Dr. Karl Thomas