Scotch Whisky looks for new boss as Betts quits

Karen Betts

Karen Betts, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) since May 2017, is leaving her role to become chief executive of the UK’s Food and Drink Federation.

Betts succeeded David Frost as CEO of the Scotch Whisky Association. Frost became the UK’s Brexit Minister.

The Scotch Whisky Association said it has begun the process of appointing a new chief executive.

Global exports of Scotch Whisky fell by more than £1.1 billion or 23% to £3.8 billion in 2020.

The export figures were the lowest in a decade — as the combined impact of Covid-19 and a 25% tariff in the United States hit the industry hard. US tariffs on Scotch Whisky have since been suspended.

In 2019, Scotch Whisky accounted for 75% of Scottish food and drink exports and 21% of all UK food and drink exports.

More than 10,000 people are directly employed in the Scotch Whisky industry in Scotland and over 40,000 jobs across the UK are supported by the industry.

Betts said: “I am delighted to have been appointed as the Food and Drink Federation’s new chief executive, to represent the huge range of companies that keep food on our tables and make up UK’s largest manufacturing industry.

“These are rapidly changing times, with challenges and opportunities for the industry to grasp in everything from addressing climate change, to skills and livelihoods, and healthy diets.

“I am looking forward to working with the FDF’s members, the FDF team, with government and other organisations as we find the best answers to these questions for all involved.”

Scott McCroskie, the Edrington CEO who is also chair of the Scotch Whisky Association, said: “After more than four years in post, Karen will leave the association with our heartfelt gratitude.

“She has steered the industry successfully through a turbulent period, critically while punitive tariffs were imposed on Scotch Whisky by the United States, through the UK’s departure from the EU, and during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Her leadership has helped the industry emerge in a strong and forward-looking position.

“Karen and her team have also positioned the industry to take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead.

“Her focus on increasing diversity in our workforce, achieving our net-zero emissions target and growing trade in key global markets will help to secure the industry’s success in years to come.

“I am confident that a new chief executive will be able to build on this for the benefit of our sector, at home and around the world.

“On behalf of the SWA Council, our member companies and the SWA team, I want to thank Karen for her service to the industry and wish her every success in her new role.

“We have begun the process of appointing a new chief executive and will make further announcements in due course.”

At the FDF, Betts will succeed Ian Wright, who steps down at the end of 2021 after seven years in the role.

FDF President Jon Woods said: “Karen Betts has an outstanding track record of achievement representing both our country, and one of our most important and valuable industries.

“This is a time of unprecedented change and opportunity for the food and drink industry.

“As we emerge from the challenges of Brexit and Covid-19, Karen will bring great understanding of, and experience in, working closely with Governments and some of the world’s biggest consumer goods companies.

“She has spent the last four years speaking for an industry with deep provenance and a range of businesses of all sizes determined that they, too, should be heard.

“In the last seven years, FDF has entrenched its position as the leading representative organisation for food and drink manufacturing.

“Membership has grown five-fold to almost a thousand companies.

“FDF’s unique mix of advisory services and advocacy, and the unparalleled expertise of its staff, offer a great platform for further dynamic growth.

“We are confident that Karen is the person to lead the FDF into an exciting and successful future.”

Prior to her role at the SWA, Betts, a lawyer, had a 16-year career in the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), fulfilling a variety of roles in London and overseas.

These included British Ambassador to Morocco and Counsellor to the British Embassy in Washington, as well as roles at the UK’s Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels and the British Embassy in Baghdad.

In London, she served in the UK Cabinet Office, the Joint Intelligence Organisation and in a range of roles in the FCO.

Before joining the FCO, Betts worked as a lawyer for Clifford Chance in London and Hong Kong. She studied law at the College of Law in Guildford and history at St. Andrews University.

Betts is an adviser to the UK Government’s Board of Trade, the chair of the CBI’s International Trade and Investment Council, a member of the Scottish Government’s Trade Board and a Trustee of Raleigh International.