John Ashworth

Born: September 2, 1936;

Died: March 22, 2024

John Ashworth, who has died aged 87, was a leading member of the Scotch whisky industry and a prominent figure in business circles in the West of Scotland. When the Tall Ships visited Greenock in 1999, he was chairman of the company set up to organise the event.

After attending Ackworth Grammar School in Pontefract, Yorkshire, he later qualified as a chartered accountant in Leeds in 1960. Shortly afterwards, he made what he claims was his best career move when he joined John Smiths Brewery where he met and married their PR girl Valerie, with whom he celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 2010.

A few years later he joined a well-known Yorkshire carpet company as financial director and oversaw its public flotation on the London Stock Exchange. Five years after that, he was invited by two overseas financiers to produce a business plan for a potential textile company and to source a funding package through regional grants, government and bank funding to a value of £2million.

This was achieved within a year and as managing director he formed a company to process synthetic fibres from a base in the South Wales Development area. A site was bought and a factory built whist a complete structure of employees was recruited and trained. A broad range of customers was established but an excellent relationship was developed with the Russian import agency and as a consequence of ongoing contracts with them, the Queens Award for Exports was received in the third year of trading by which time 500 people were employed.

By 1972 it became apparent that there were going to be significant problems ahead for the synthetic fibre industry and an opportunity to sell the company was taken up and John opted to leave the company. It was fortuitous that the Seagram Company of North America, at that time the world’s largest drinks group, had experienced managerial problems in their Scottish subsidiary Chivas Brothers Ltd and by word of mouth John’s availability and record were picked up by the principal Seagram shareholders, the Bronfman family, and an invitation to visit them in Montreal and New York for a week resulted in John returning home at the weekend as managing director of Chivas Brothers Ltd in Paisley and its UK holding company Seagram Distillers PLC, later the sponsor of the Grand National race meeting.

John remained in these positions for 23 years until his retirement in 1996 and during this period the company expanded rapidly. The Glenlivet and Glen Grant companies were taken over and two new malt distilleries were built. In tandem with these positions, John was on the council of The Scotch Whisky Association and a non-executive director of two of the Scotch industries co-operative ventures, The North British Distillery Co. Ltd. and The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre on the Royal Mile, together with being a co-founder of the prestigious Keepers of the Quaich.

Read more: Stephen White obituary: Glasgow professor and leading authority on Soviet politics

Read more: Ian Green obituary: Ex-policeman who established esteemed record label

In parallel with this John was also vice-president of Seagram Europe with functional responsibility for all European operations in eight countries including the integration into Seagram of acquisitions such as Martell Cognac, Mumm Champagne and Sandeman Port and Sherry.

John was also active in the West of Scotland business life with appointments as a member of the CBI council, chairman of Renfrewshire Enterprise Ltd for eight years from its foundation in 1990, Member of Court of Paisley University for 12 years, as vice-chairman for the last three years.

In 1995 he was awarded the OBE for Services to the Scotch Whisky Industry and Industry in Renfrewshire and he was very proud to receive this from the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

From 2002 onwards he was free of commitments and enjoyed playing very average golf at Helensburgh and visiting his modest holiday home in the South of Spain. In his youth he had been a very active rugby and cricket player in the Yorkshire Leagues and his interest continued as an active patron of the Helensburgh Rugby and Cricket Club.

An interest in local history resulted in him writing and publishing a book, The History of Helensburgh and the Surrounding Area, which traced events from Roman times through to the current era. And occasionally he would speak to groups on the subject.

The family moved to Helensburgh almost exactly 50 years ago and some still remain there. John is survived by his widow Valerie, sons Jon and Simon and daughter Louise, together with grandchildren Jennifer, Samantha, Lucy, Haydn and Aimee, and great-grandchildren Eléonore and Olivier.