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Graduation stories: from Formula 1 to distilling gin!

4 December 2014

Andrew Mackenzie came to Abertay at the age of 60 to study on our Professional Masters in Food & Drink Innovation (Packaging & Sustainability) - a brand new course designed to help address the pending skills shortage in the food and drink industry.

He started out as an artist, went on to run his own production company, worked for McLaren at the heart of Formula 1, and is now about to open his own distillery.

Here he tells us how the MProf helped him take his career in a new direction.

Why the MProf at Abertay?

“I originally trained as an illustrator and graphic designer. I went on to work for a number of agencies before co-founding my own production company in London. I left it after some eight years to move on to become Creative Director of the marketing arm of McLaren, and spent an amazing 10 years working at the heart of Formula 1.

“But the F1 life also meant that I was missing so much of seeing my daughter growing up that we decided it was time for a bit of normality, and we moved up to Scotland in 2000. I began lecturing in graphics in Dundee and also project managing some international projects for what was then Dundee College, which later evolved into a full time post.

“I’ve always had a keen interest in food and drink and had often toyed with some business ideas of my own in the back of my mind, and when I heard about the Food and Drink Innovation Masters it sounded just right to enable me to test some of them out and finally put them into practice.”

Life as a mature student

“Although having worked in education for 13 years, coming to Abertay as a student was quite a change! It took me a while to knock the rust off my academic writing skills, but the course was relatively easy on that front to begin with, although really ramping up as the year progressed.

“Some aspects of the course covered ground that I’d already gained experience in through my career, which at first I found frustrating as I was keen to press on with my ideas. But I soon learned that revisiting these old skills gave me a fresh perspective on how I could apply them in new ways.

“Coming back to uni has proved enormously helpful in ways I didn’t expect. It let me step back from my future plans and look at them quite objectively, which has really helped in developing them and, hopefully, making them stronger. I would definitely recommend the experience to anyone, of any age, who’s thinking of making a change in their lives.”

Highlights of the course

“I think the extremely strong links with industry is a great strength for the course. The visiting lecturers provided real diversity and breadth to my thinking about our food and where it comes from - in fact it was an early lecture on whisky that led and inspired me to develop an idea to start a distillery.

“The regular field trips that were part of the course enabled us to see a very much ‘behind the scenes’ view of food and drink production and processing. From seeing and learning how coffee is grown, imported and blended to a nose to tail visit to an abattoir, you could get a real feel for the size and breadth of the food and drink industry and how you might best fit into it.

“The course was much more unstructured than I had at first expected, which took me a while to get my head around. I realised that I was going to have to find ways to link the different modules to my own interests, and work to align what it offered with my own ideas. It’s a much stronger approach I now think, and allows people to adapt it to their own needs better.

“Make no mistake, it’s a tough course. But if you do the work (and there were plenty of late nights spent at my computer!) it gives you a fantastic grounding in the food and drink industry and the confidence to feel you can play a part in it.”

Future plans

“From that whisky lecture early in the course, I went on to focus many of my course modules on the various aspects of opening a distillery. I did my final dissertation on the viability of a cocktail gin and doing consumer tests with different mixers. I’m now finalising my business plan for some backers who have shown a lot of interest, and I hope to have a distillery up and running and producing gin by spring – so keep an eye out for Verdant Gin on the offy shelves!”

At the end of the course, Andrew was awarded the Food and Drink Innovation at Abertay Award and the University Prize for Best Postgraduate Student Overall.

Many congratulations are in order, and we wish him all the very best of luck with his distillery!

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