Why Michelle Hall credits people for Four Pillars Gin's success
What began in a farm shed eight years ago is now a global hit, thanks to two special ingredients – oranges and people, says Michelle Hall.
Michelle is the General Manager of Operations and People at Four Pillars Gin, which won the International Gin Producer of the Year award in London in 2019 and 2020 for the quality of its product and approach to making it.
“It's been a really wild journey – very fast growing, people coming on board very quickly and trying to keep up with the pace of the business,” says Michelle, who saw the General Management Program at Melbourne Business School as an opportunity to expand her skills to match Four Pillars’ growth.
Secret to success
Squeezing oranges and supporting people is the secret to Four Pillars’ success, Michelle says, who has been with the company since it started in a Yarra Valley farm shed before relocating to its current site in Healesville at the entrance to the famous food and wine region, north-east of Melbourne.
“Whole Australian oranges go into our distillations and that really gives the gin a distinct citrus flavour, so, when served with tonic and ice and a big wedge of orange, it makes the most delicious drink,” Michelle says.
The General Management Program helped Michelle find focus, having seen the company grow from a handful of people producing around 700 bottles a week six years ago to 100 staff turning out 6000 bottles a day now.
“The key takeaway I took from the program is to be better engaged with the people I work with. It's been so insightful. We bring these people on board because of their skills, and they're clever and have amazing ideas, but sometimes, in the day-to-day of just getting things down, we don't take the time to sit and discuss and strategise with them.”
Adding to Michelle’s challenges are the work now underway to double Four Pillars’ Healesville footprint and the opening of its new bar and retail shop in Sydney.
“With such rapid growth, you're constantly having to readjust and reassess how things are done. A system that might have worked six months ago is just no longer sustainable because of the growth. So, I’m just trying to make sure that we have everything in place and the right people to make sure it all runs smoothly and continues to be successful.”
Michelle was impressed with the content of the General Management Program and how its facilitator helped a shy person like herself to relax and share experiences.
“I found the course to be really rewarding and learnt a lot about myself as a general manager. The facilitator was amazing and kept us all fully engaged for the whole week – got us all talking and comfortable with each other,” she says.
The human ingredient
Michelle must be doing something right with the level of success and growth in staff and markets that Four Pillars has enjoyed since it was founded by her friend and former wine marketer Cameron Mackenzie and his marketing and PR colleagues Stu Gregor and Matt Jones.
The trio identified batch-distilled gin as an emerging market and set out to do everything right to highlight the human ingredient in the craft of distilling.
They named three of their five handcrafted German stills after their mothers – Wilma, Jude and Eileen – the fourth, Beth, after the mother of their first full-time employee and the fifth after Michelle’s mum, Coral.
Initially crowd-funded by the public and a group of passionate “ginvestors” their company later caught the eye of brewing giant Lion, who are now half owners and help it sell into 25 markets around the world.
But for Michelle, the core of the business remains its people.
“What makes Four Pillars special is the quality of the product and the passion of the people. We all love working for Four Pillars. We're really passionate, and we have fun.”