By Karen Carruth

I’ve just had a notification from Linkedin from one Sandy Wilkie, under his name it says, ‘Retired Milkman’. That made me smile, as it takes in a career in the dairy industry that has seen him move on from being the local milk boy in Blantyre, to fronting the marketing of one of the biggest milk processors in Britain.

So, ‘Retired milkman’, might be him being a wee bit modest.

After serving the dairy industry for many decades with Wilkies, Wiseman, Muller and latterly Milk and More, Sandy Wilkie, the man in the kilt, the great supporter of SAYFC, and organiser of many a terrific night out, has retired.

What’s he going to do now?

He tells me will be taking time to allow himself to get bored. A luxury he has never enjoyed before. Time to get bored? How long will that take? Let’s see. Right, that’s it, he must be bored by now. What are you actually going to do with your time now, Sandy?

I meet Sandy at his home farm, Bardykes, Blantyre, where he lives with his wife of 40 years, Ailsa.

Before we address his present predicament of peace and quiet, Sandy’s career has been long and varied and worth a look back over. 

A quick rundown first. Alexander Craig Wilkie FRAgS DL (his Sunday name), age 67, was recently awarded an honorary lifetime membership of the Scottish Grocers Federation, recognising his contribution to the development of the dairy industry in Scotland, particularly his support for the independent retail sector.

Sandy was the business relationship and development director with Muller Milk and is a former chairman of both the Dairy Council and the Milk Marketing Forum, as well as the European Dairy Association Liquid Milk Group. He is also past president of the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs, honorary president of the Scottish Food Trades Association and is a Fellow of the Royal Agricultural Societies.

He serves as Depute Lord Lieutenant of Lanarkshire, past vice president of the Royal Highland Agricultural Society of Scotland, and is director of both AgriScot and Hamilton Park Racecourse.

A finger in many pies, but it all began in Blantyre working with his father on the home farm developing a milk and dairy produce manufacturing plant and delivery service with milk from their own, and local dairy herds.

A family man, he has his ever-supportive wife Ailsa, two grown up children, Craig and Kimberley and four grandchildren. Ailsa runs the on-farm private nursery in partnership with their daughter Kimberley, a Stirling University Graduate, and his son, a Cambridge Graduate, works in London. At every possible opportunity, Sandy attempts to bring together his family and friends for a party, either at home in Blantyre or at his beachside holiday home in Campbeltown – a former Church of Scotland Glebe. Or anywhere else he can think of – in a marquee in the garden, in Bali, in France, in New Mexico and even on the remote Hebridean island of Ulva.

Work has always played a big part in Sandy’s life, sometimes paid and sometimes unpaid, and when he commits to a project, he commits fully.

His career developed from the home farm to become one of the original shareholders as the Wiseman brothers grew their family milk business – he started as sales manager moving up to sales director, then sales and marketing director.  The business was sold to Müller six years ago, after which he continued as business relationship director and for the past couple of years, was business development director for Milk&More, the home delivery operation acquired from Dairy Crest in. Home deliveries in glass, now have a big future he predicts.

His unpaid commitments have been numerous. His roots and passion are firmly rooted in the dairy industry which hasn’t gone unnoticed by those that have worked with Sandy in his various roles.

As well as the award from Scottish Grocer, and the Princess Royal Medal presented by Princess Anne on behalf of the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF), recently he was upgraded from being an Associate with the Royal Agricultural Societies, to Fellow (FRAgS.

He is most proud in business, of his involvement in the development of the iconic Black’n’White Brand for Wiseman (everyone remembers the ‘cow car’ he drove around in for over 20 years). The brand won numerous design and marketing awards for campaigns like the world’s first ‘talking milk carton’ called Fresh’n’Lo, The One%, Tesco Pure, Puriti and SHOCK, to the creation of Scotland’s ‘Neighbourhood Shop of the Year Awards’ programme.

What he remembers most about it are the hooleys that the awards finals inevitably turned into. “I get most pleasure out of organising something that other people get pleasure out of. I really like seeing everyone having a good time. We always had great entertainment at these award events,” he tells us.

“The one that sticks in my memory is booking an expensive English magician. He had me and my glamorous assistant on the stage holding up a glistening, silk sheet, then lowering it, then up again. When we dropped the sheet for the third time there was a real live dairy cow standing there on the stage.

“For a moment there was complete silence from the audience, then they erupted with applause and cheers so much so that the beast was nearly spooked. These are the things people remember.

“We had some great times at the awards and they led to us also holding an ‘Employee of the Year’ event, the ‘Wiseman Dairy Farmer of the Year’ and ‘Drive Wise’, our ‘Driver of the Year Day’. They were also the basis for much charity work during the 1990s and noughties when we raised considerable funds for our key partners, the Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Trust, the Variety Club for whom we placed 10 Sunshine Coaches on the road, and Help the Hospices.”

After visitng America to visit the US Dairy Council, he was proud of the pilot initiative in the early part of the 2000s in Scotland for the Milk Moustache Campaign involving TV and film celebrities who donned a Milk Moustache. Its success raised the profile of milk and created an uplift in consumption. A similar campaign, Make Mine Milk, was developed across the UK, part paid by the dairy companies and after protracted negotiations in Westminster and Brussels, supported by both the Milk Development Council and the European Commission.

As a result, Sandy was asked to present about these concepts and their successes across the world.

Also, a close working relationship has developed over the years between him and many key members of the Asian community UK wide. He was supportive of and involved with, the Pakistani Welfare Trust since it was inaugurated in Scotland 28 years ago, from 40 at the first dinner to 700 nowadays. Indeed, he’s travelled on various projects to the Indian subcontinent with some of his contacts as well as to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

He says: “Who would ever have believed that one might have seen a Black’n’White Wiseman Branded banner being displayed at a Sikh wedding in Mumbai!”

Apart from his love of the dairy side of his life, Sandy is equally well known for his commitment SAYFC. He joined his local club, East Kilbride, as a teenager and took part in a range of activities from rent-a-farm and football to drama and speechmaking until he was officially too old at 26. He went onto hold various club offices before chairing Lanarkshire District, West Area and then the National SAYFC in the early 1980s, serving on their European Committee in Strasbourg.

That association has continued in many forms right through until the present day, having just completed five years as their VP and President leading up to the celebrations of their 75th anniversary. He still serves on the Ellen Kerr Awards Panel in the West of Scotland as a lifetime member, similarly on the Willie Davidson Fund which supports Farm Safety Training Initiatives in Clubs and Districts and is honoured to be the current Chair of the International Travel Trust associated with the SAYFC.

Sandy has just returned from a trip to Rwanda where his vision is to develop an ongoing exchange programme between them and Scotland. He adds: “The International Trust is a super organisation. We have an exchange infrastructure in many countries around the world, but despite Sandy and many other club members over the years involved in carrying out community work from Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Sudan to Sierra Leone, Malawi and Kenya, trips that expanded our own personal development, we have never succeeded in building sustainable links with any developing Nations in Africa.

“I visited Africa back in the 1970s and it blew my mind, it made a lifelong lasting impression on me. I would love the Trust be able to offer that opportunity to both our and their Young Farmers. It’s early days, but it looks promising.”

A little-known passion he had was competing in show jumping events with both the Clyde Riding Club and the BSJA (yes, Sandy rode showjumpers – he claims there’s not a horse big enough now). He became a judge and panel course designer with the British Show Jumping Association with the climax of that era, being part of the team that designed the courses at Hickstead for the world champions in the late 1970s, and he even built courses at the Highland in the 1980s.

What else are you up to Sandy? Or are the pipe and slippers looking welcoming?

“I started thinking about retirement about three years ago. For the past couple of years, I’ve been working in London every second week for Milk&More, which was fine for them and for me, as my son and his family are there, it gave me a chance to see them more regularly.

“But it was time for a change. I got to the stage I didn’t want to be in hotels every other week. Sure, there was a time when I was younger that looking after customers and being out socialising every night was great fun. I love entertaining, but I have to admit, it was all getting a bit boring – I’m obviously getting old!

“It came to a head when my son had a nasty cycling accident. He is fine now, but I got quite a fright. It happened in Kintyre as we all set off for Mid Argyll Show, he on two wheels, the rest of us on four! He was airlifted to hospital from Campbeltown and after a few days was released, but it did make me stop and think about what was important at this stage in my life.

“I had a discussion with Dr Patrick Muller, MD of Milk&More, an amazing young man who has a fantastic vision for where the company is heading, and we agreed I would leave in October, 2017.”

Being a depute Lord Lieutenant for Lanarkshire is another great pleasure in Sandy’s life. “This is just a lovely thing to be involved in,” he says. “It isn’t a paid post, but the joy I get from the role is immense. I tell you, it’s a much better day’s work than arguing the toss with clients about their milk price,” he laughs.

Sandy is also a director of Hamilton Park Racecourse, and is currently involved in organising the plans to build a 120-room hotel at the course on the perfectly located site just off the M74 and on the banks of the Clyde. He also serves on the AgriScot board: “The team that run AgriScot is excellent. Guys who are committed to the cause for no personal financial gain. It’s a very successful, enjoyable show, a terrific business event and first class advert for the industry.”

Locally, Sandy has been a director of one of the UK’s oldest agricultural shows, East Kilbride, for more than 40 years and has some interesting ideas about regenerating it as it heads towards its 250th year in a few years’ time. He appreciates there aren’t many farms left in EK, which makes it challenging, but with a new young and eager secretary and ambitious new committee convenors in place, he hopes to see the show have some much needed new life breathed into it.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled all over the world in my career but still have several more trips arranged. I’m just back from St Lucia where I welcomed my wee sister and 47 foot yacht BRAG into the harbour at the end of their month long sail across the Atlantic. I’m going to Venice with Ailsa and I’ve a trip to Aspen Colorado with some of the Wiseman boys before I’m off again to Santa Fe in New Mexico. There’s also a whisper about a trip to Georgia on the cards with former customers. I think I’ve visited 105 countries so far.”

He continues: “I was given some excellent advice recently. A wise gentleman said to me: ‘You’ll be invited to get involved in lots of things now Sandy, but take my advice and tell them that you are giving yourself a year to find your feet and can’t agree to anything new immediately,’ That’s exactly what I am doing – well trying to!”

With all his travels, Sandy has accumulated a stack of photographs, slides, films and videos he has taken over the years – from his Brownie 128 in the 1950s and super 8 cine in the ‘80s to Beetamax and VHS cassettes and modern day digital memory cards

“I want to get down to Campbeltown for a few undisturbed weeks to get soaked in them and get them into some kind of sensible order. There’ll be some amazing material to appear, so old friends, beware the unveiling of the Wilkie Archives! I also want to do some reading and spend a wee bit more time in Kintyre with the two generations of kids. It’s a lovely spot, right on the beach near Peninver looking over to the islands of Arran, Davaar and Ailsa Craig.”

I ask Sandy what the secret of his success has been. He thinks about it for a moment and says: “I just get on with people. It’s all about relationships. I hate the word networking. I think it’s more about trusting people and in turn them trusting you. And of course, I think it’s great to take a few ‘considered risks’ but it’s really important to do exactly what you say you are going to do.”


10 things you wouldn’t believe about Sandy

1. Raced trotting ponies sitting in a sulky and was an official judge and course designer for the BSJA

2. Cycled from the “Birth to Burial”, locations of David Livingstone – Blantyre Scotland to Westminster Abbey and Blantyre Malawi to Lilongwe.

3. The sports cars he has loved and lost and crashed! (Lancia – Jag XJS – Lotus Elite – Karmann Ghia)

4. Was crowned “Scottish Curry Lover of the Year 2013” (by the Scottish Asian Business Awards)

5. Almost cut his feet off on a “Dickie’s Hay Mower” and was rewarded by his Dad with his first “Blondie”. (A 14.2hh Arab mare for show jumping and pony club games).

6. Visited more than 100 countries/territories

7. Has met five members of the Royal Family and had a serious disagreement with one of them

8. Passed his driving test three times (twice ordinary, once advanced)

9. Toured Rome on a Lambretta and Alaska on a sledge pulled by a lot of huskies

10. Featured on the radio in the 70s by Noel Edmunds and David Hamilton as the “El Poppo” manufacturer and “Britain’s Most Romantic Milkman”.