Interview with Founder of Thomson & Scott Skinny Champagne, Amanda Thomson
Amanda Thomson is the passionate CEO and Founder of Thomson & Scott, winner of the EY Winning Women 2017 and the Le Cordon Bleu Entrepreneur of the Year 2017.
She is leading the transparency in wine movement by creating a company that asks consumers to demand what’s in their bottles. By example, Thomson & Scott produces top quality Champagne and Prosecco with as little intervention as possible in the production process and highlights its vegan and organic credentials.
Wine labelling is sparse in its detail and misleading in its description. Currently, the wine industry doesn’t have to say what goes into making the products we drink.
Raised on a vegetarian, no sugar diet by her health-conscious mother, Amanda Thomson has always had a keen interest in what’s in her food.
A lover of Champagne and sparkling wine, she discovered that there was more than just grapes and alcohol in her favourite drinks.
After a successful career as an Arts Broadcaster at the BBC, Amanda moved her young family to Paris and studied for her Diploma in Wine at the renowned Le Cordon Bleu School to find a way of bringing greater transparency to the wine industry.
In an effort to be the first wine company to also put a real focus on wine packaging and its harmful impact on the environment, all their own deliveries are made with packaging that is 100% recyclable.
A savvy publicity expert, Amanda has already secured substantial press coverage both nationally and internationally on her exciting business. Her Thomson & Scott Skinny portfolio also includes Thomson & Scott Skinny Prosecco, which has become the must-have sparkling wine.
It’s a pleasure to interview Amanda on the blog.
Describe a typical day for you?
Like a lot of entrepreneurs, particularly of businesses in their relatively early stages, I don’t often get a typical day. I thought running my own business would give me more control over my time, but the truth is that in my past life as a BBC arts correspondent, my life was far more settled because I was somewhat studio-based.
Now, I might be launching Thomson & Scott away from home in the UK or abroad (we’re moving big time into the US this year), with our producers in France or Italy, or in our London office with the team discussing everything from logistics to how to make everything we do more environmentally conscious.
But, a typical typical day has me up before 7am shovelling porridge and fruit into my children, waving them off to school (I’m not a morning person and my husband does the school drop-off more often than I do) then sitting at my laptop.
I’m never happy when I’m inactive all day so ideally I’ll factor in some exercise; something buzzy like a spin class (I adore Soul Cycle when I’m in the US) or aerial yoga when I can squeeze it in. Lunch is falafel, soup or a colourful bowl of something (I’m vegetarian, and aiming for a completely plant-based lifestyle. Cheese is my downfall!), and then more time at the laptop in the afternoon. We love bingeing on Netflix, I’m a addicted to their documentaries like Bitcoin, Icarus or the new one about human rights lawyer Gloria Allred.
What do you feel are your biggest achievements?
Creating a brand that has disrupted a notoriously conservative industry. When I came up with the idea for Thomson & Scott Skinny Champagne it was because I loved sparkling wine and was amazed to discover it was often dosed up with unnecessary processed sugar. If I was surprised – and I considered myself something of a wine buff – I knew others would be too.
The first people I approached to discuss my ideas were respected people at the top of their game in the wine industry – and many of them dismissed me as crazy.
To end up with a brand that sold out three times in its launch month at Selfridges, that has opened up the debate for wine transparency (there is currently no legal requirement in the UK to list ingredients on wine labels), and that has been referenced in articles in everything from The Times to GQ, is pretty staggering.
What’s in your handbag/ satchel?
I’m constantly striving to carry less and less and am super-envious of the way men manage to fit everything into their pockets. I was given a Selfridges voucher for Christmas and invested in a fab Mon Purse small bucket bag. This Australian range is customizable, and I had the bag monogrammed with my initials. It’s smart enough for meetings, but its size forces me to carry only the real essentials. I’ve literally just emptied out my bag for the purposes of this list!
Phone, charger and spare battery (I learned the hard way that without power you are nothing in a business meeting!)
Headphones (for all the US conference calls I’m now doing)
Bare Minerals lip gloss. I love that their make-up doesn’t contain nasties.
Mini roll-on Diptyque perfume
Debit card, tiny umbrella and house keys
Notepad and pen, business cards
Poem by my son
What are your ambitions in life?
I am intent on turning Thomson & Scott into a global brand by launching new products and spreading the message about wine transparency. I’m also just as passionate about supporting female entrepreneurs. When I started out I was incredibly fortunate to benefit from the help of incredible mentors, like Tech Guru Jacqueline de Rojas MBE and their input gave me an essential confidence boost. There are still more men named Dave or David running FTSE-100 businesses than women, and this frustrates me. I was fortunate enough to listen front-row to a keynote speech by Madeleine Albright when I was a European delegate at the 2017 EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women conference in Palm Springs. Albright once famously declared that, ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other’, and I couldn’t agree more. Women bring something different to the work place, and the world is a duller place when our input is sidelined.
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?
Not to listen to the naysayers. It was disheartening to come up with what I knew was a great idea and be knocked back by people I initially respected. I soon realised that when you do something differently you’re upsetting the status quo and this doesn’t always go down well. I wasn’t always happy to be a disruptor, but now I know it’s often the only way to create a successful brand. I call myself a polite disrupter and have even based my entrepreneur club on that premise.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
Still working, still spinning, still coming up with new products. I’d like to think I’ll be in over 20 countries by 2023 (we’re currently in seven), and I hope to have created a foundation to support women in business. I plan to set this up using proceeds from every Thomson & Scott bottle, and would love to help build at least one business founded by a woman every year.
What advice would you give a budding food and drinks entrepreneur?
Know your market. You can only come up with something new if you know everything else that’s out there. Stick to quality. The future is about sustainability, reducing waste, and provenance.
What do you wish you’d known about motherhood before having kids?
I loved my job as a BBC arts correspondent, and thought that motherhood would stunt my career. I discovered that far from slowing you down, kids help you focus on what’s really important. Since having my first child 16 years ago I’ve never stopped working. My phone ran off the hook when I was pregnant with my now teenage daughter and I initially and naively thought the drink/lunch invitations were work contacts wanting to take me out to congratulate me. In actual fact they all wanted to make a move on my job! Things are slowly changing for the better for working women, and who knows, one day we really might be able to have it all. Whatever ‘all’ means for each individual.
Finally, happiness is…
A chilled glass of organic, vegan Thomson & Scott Skinny Prosecco, perhaps sipped from a Skinny Mini bottle through a compostable eco straw, by the fire watching my latest Netflix obsession. Or beachside in Cap Ferret, watching my children surf while I wiggle my toes in the sand and read a biography by one of my business heroes.