Niall Mckee admits his “slightly nebulous” title can throw people off at parties. In his last job, managing innovation for Diageo’s single malts in Western Europe, a bottle of Dalwhinnie would do the explaining for him.
“I could say, ‘Here’s a bottle that I created from start to finish. Now it’s on the shelf.’”
Now, as the marketing manager for Diageo’s futures team, the task is a little harder. Mckee and his eight colleagues are tasked with future-proofing the drinks giant’s business model, which is a lot of ground to cover for small talk.
Aside from the occasional research report, most of Mckee’s time is spent forging relationships with promising startups at the ground floor.
Combined, his team meets with around 100 technology companies each year. These meetings can turn into anything from a three-month pilot project to an investment at Diageo’s spirits incubator, Distill Ventures, which has committed £25 million to companies since 2013.
Here’s how he spent a recent day, lightly edited:
5:30 a.m.: I have 3-month-old, so my routine has changed pretty significantly. I’m an active person, but my cycling has gone out the window. I’ll grab coffee and get breakfast — a coffee and a smoothie — as I’m not a big breakfast person.
6:00 a.m.: I head to my personal-trainer session at a gym owned by a friend. I didn’t walk into a gym until about a year ago, but personal training means I make the most out of the 45 minutes as I have someone pushing me. It’s hard but worth it, and I feel like I’ve started the day with a positive mindset.
7:00 a.m.: After a shower, I come back home to hang out with my daughter and my wife. I try to help her out as much as I can. I’m lucky that I have a short commute. In the car, I figure out my day and what I want to get done. I used to listen to podcasts, but I now find giving myself 15 minutes of space to think makes me much more efficient.
8:15 a.m.: Arrive at the office. We’re still an email-heavy company, and with a global role, there’s always lots to catch up on. I’m working on a project based in Asia, so they’ll have been working for eight hours by the time you get in.
9:00 a.m.: I have a two-hour meeting with an external partner about a new project for Johnnie Walker in Singapore around the future of personalization. The opportunity to customize liquids is new to the business. We’re looking at our five- to 10-year vision and the roadmap to get there. There’s a cross-functional team we’re building for that too.
11:00 a.m.: I have a weekly check-in with a couple of stakeholders in our European media and futures team and the global digital team. We’ll each have met three or four companies that week, and together we’ll spend an hour working through a list of startups discussing whether they’d work for our pitch sessions. We have around four of these sessions each year where five to eight companies come in to work off a brief and pitch for business. Each time we meet it can spark different ideas, and the breadth of innovation we come across as a global team is amazing.
1:00 p.m.: I don’t like to fill out my day back to back, so in the hours around lunch I give myself the space to think and do work on a different floor in our office. I take 30 minutes for lunch, trying (often failing) to eat healthy in our canteen.
2:00 p.m.: I head out to meet one of our potential big strategic partners, a meal-kit delivery company, for an hour-and-a-half working session. For the last six months, we’ve been trying to understand how we can operate with them in this space, getting our brands to show up in someone’s kitchen. A member of our culture and entertainment team, Chloe Healy, joins to understand how we can bring influencers into the concepts we’re developing here. Her team is hugely important to us now that we’ve moved into a digitally led marketing model.
4:00 p.m.: I try to block out two hours for two or three days a week to meet with potential partners. Today I meet the founder of a fast-growing U.S. reservations platform for bars and restaurants that’s about to launch in Europe. We’ve got a strong network in the top-end bar and club world in every single key city across Europe.
5:00 p.m.: In the U.S., we’re working with an entrepreneur-in-residence around a route to market for whisky, which is around 40 percent of Diageo’s business. I have a 30-minute catch-up with him from San Francisco. I’ve been working closely with him in building the business model for new platform we’re looking to launch out there. Understanding the mentality of entrepreneurs is a huge learning curve for us as a corporation thinking about risk, speed and agility.
5.30 p.m.: I head home for my daughter’s bath time, taking a call in the car on the way. After we put her to bed, I make dinner. Tonight it’s a one-pot chicken jamboree from Hello Fresh.
10:00 p.m. My wife works for Sky, so just as part of my role is enjoying products, she keeps on top of new programming too. We watch an episode of the drama “The Affair” and head to bed. In my 20s, I was on emails until 11 p.m. at night, but now I feel like I am more productive if I’ve had an opportunity to switch off.