Stephen Sparrow, Founder of Snow Leopard Vodka - The Clubhouse London

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Stephen Sparrow, Founder of Snow Leopard Vodka

stephen-sparrow-mongoliaIn addition to keeping you updated about all the great things that are going on at The Clubhouse, we thought we’d turn the tables and put the focus on all the exciting things our fantastic members are achieving!

For our November ‘Member in the Spotlight’ feature we spoke to Stephen Sparrow, Founder of Snow Leopard Vodka. Stephen has been a member at The Clubhouse since we opened in 2012.

1. Tell us about yourself and your company.
I started Snow Leopard Vodka nearly 10 years ago. Having studied Modern History at Oxford I went on to become a City solicitor, however that wasn’t really for me! I then went on to work in the commercial side of sports, and having been approached by Jackie Stewart, the F1 world champ, worked at Stewart Grand Prix which subsequently became Jaguar Racing.

Moving to Allied Domecq, the second largest drinks firm after Diageo, I was Global VP for their sponsorship deals, but the business was sold a year after I had joined, and I was made redundant. However, within an hour of my redundancy I’d already brought three plane tickets; I went to Colorado skiing for a month, I’m also into rugby and horse riding so I went to Argentina, and ended up learning the Tango whilst I was there. Finally I went to the Himalayas where I learnt about the existence of the Snow Leopard.

There is an NGO called the Snow Leopard Trust that helps local communities that live near snow leopards; the way you help snow leopards is by helping the local communities, predator proofing their livestock, educating them to discourage retaliation killings and incentivising them to help protect the species and I wanted to help. There wasn’t a UK subsidiary, so to make it more attractive tax-wise, I set up the Snow Leopard Trust UK, however, I needed something to generate money for the Trust. I trademarked the Snow Leopard name because I thought it would be great for a premium vodka brand, and that if enough people liked it and brought enough of it, it could get snow leopards off the endangered list.snowleopard

Using my background and contacts in the industry, I chose a distillery in Poland to make the vodka. The Poles have been making vodka the longest and really know what they’re doing, which gives a good level of consumer confidence – in the same vein as Swiss watches or Italian shoes. We decided to use spelt as it’s the purest and most flavoursome grain, although unfortunately the most expensive! I started the business from my kitchen table – that was my boardroom table, my bedroom was the stockroom and I used my bicycle “Geronimo” as our distribution vehicle. I actually started in this area; Tramp nightclub on Jermyn Street was my first customer! I soon became known as the only supplier that clubs could call on a Thursday afternoon and get the alcohol ready for sale on Saturday.

I was lucky that quite a few interesting people got behind the brand; a close pal of mine is the Queen’s eldest grandson, Peter Phillips. He had Snow Leopard Vodka as the only drink served at his wedding at Windsor Castle and we were quite fortunate that Prince William was photographed getting out of a helicopter holding a 3 litre bottle of Snow Leopard Vodka, which the Sunday newspapers got quite excited about!

After three and a half years we were brought by The Edrington Group and I sold the majority of my equity to them, but kept some and have been working with them since. They are the perfect partner as they are also owned by a charitable trust and is the largest contributor to charities in its homeland, Scotland, and also donates to charities around the world. Having sister  brands such as The Macallan, The Famous Grouse and Highland Park really helps with driving distribution. We’re now stocked in over 30 different countries, we turned over $2 million last year and I have raised over $300,000 for the conservation of snow leopards.

1st-photograph-of-aztai-taken-by-srs-3-metres-away-flat-1024x6802. What has been your biggest success so far?
Six years ago I went to Mongolia and there had been a dzud (a severe winter) which meant that the local nomadic people lost 90% of their livestock, which is also very bad for the snow leopards. The Snow Leopard Trust had no funds as it was towards the end of the financial year so I raided my bank and donated $15,000 to buy new livestock for 200 families.

The herders wanted to say thank you, and as it had been four years since I’d taken a proper holiday, I went to Mongolia to see the families. Less than 100 Westerners have ever seen a snow leopard in the wild, so we were incredibly lucky when on the 4th day we came across a fresh ibex carcass whilst trekking. We hoped that the snow leopard might still be near, and minutes later “Aztai” appeared from a cave below us. I managed to get the closest range shot of a snow leopard in the wild using a handheld camera. It’s an incredibly unique photo.

Then as we were walking back, an old man from the village was sitting on a wall and asked my translator “Why is the man from far away so smiley?”. She explained that I’d just got a really great shot of a snow leopard and that I was so thankful that I’d been invited out to Mongolia. The old man smiled and said to my translator “No, the snow leopard came to say thank you to the man from far away.”

3. What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given?
The best piece of advice probably came from Jackie Stewart. He said when you’re doing deals go straight to the top – speak to the CEO or the Chairman if you have access. (His actual words were “don’t bugger around in the knicker draw Sparrow!”.)

4. What project are you most excited about right now?
I recently got back from a trip to Kyrgyzstan because we’ve received funding for a ground breaking project working with the park managers to help protect the snow leopards from poachers. We set up 40 camera traps that will help the rangers keep track of both the snow leopards and potential poachers, so I’m excited to see what the cameras capture.

We’re also going to be releasing a new packaging design in America that will come out in early 2017.

5. If you were on an island and could only bring three things, what would you bring?
I would take a sturdy horse and two dogs – preferably my father’s Labradors Lily and Jessie.

6. How has being a member of The Clubhouse improved the way you work or contributed to the success of your business?
I travel an awful lot going up to Scotland to see The Edrington Group, going to America for the business over there, and then travelling around the world to see snow leopards, so having a London base at The Clubhouse is incredibly useful. The idea of working from home doesn’t really appeal to me anymore, I miss the social element of having other people around. I’ve got to know some really great members and staff at The Clubhouse, and the atmosphere gives you a really great level of energy to be productive!

7. Where can other members find you?
I’m usually on one of the hot desks downstairs at St. James’s Square.

8. What is your favourite place to go in London? (apart from The Clubhouse obviously!)
I love to walk my twin brother’s poodle Louis in Kensington Palace Gardens.

We hope you enjoyed finding out a little more about Stephen and Snow Leopard Vodka, don’t forget to say hello if you see him at The Clubhouse! We will be hosting a ‘Cocktails & Conservation’ members evening in the new year, so keep your eyes peeled for more information in the coming months. You can also purchase Snow Leopard Vodka in Waitrose and online from Ocado.

You can also find other members on our Members Directory, either browse the directory or search for a particular skill. Make sure to upload your own information so that other members can also find you – just log into your account and choose My Profile.

If you’d like to be featured in an upcoming Member in the Spotlight, please contact [email protected]