Nolet at one

When Nolet joined the family business, he was whisked off to the US – a stronghold for Ketel One – to learn business English and work for a wholesaler. In California he was tasked with low-level operational jobs such as assembling POS displays in liquor stores in the on-trade. Most in his position would complain that the work was below him, but no, he says he found it interesting. When it was time for him to return to the Netherlands, there was no leg-up to a role with a suit – he learned the ropes from the bottom up.

“I was happy at the bottom,” says Nolet. “You see everything and you know what everyone does here. I’m part of the people who work here –not because I was born a Nolet but because I’ve done those jobs. You earn respect.”

Indeed, how many other international spirits company presidents know their way around the bottling line? Apart from his father, Carel Nolet, and brother Carel Nolet Jr, there can’t be many. This means there is an appreciation of everyone’s roles, from the cleaner to the president. During the hard times, when he was a boy, the distillery employed just 12 staff. Now there are 101 at the Schiedam-based distillery (and 20 more in the US). “That’s 101 people with mortgages and children,” he says. “You feel that responsibility.”

Nolet’s father at 75 is still very much involved. “He’s very active – he’s here every day, at weekends. He hangs out in the office. It’s his life’s work,” says Nolet. Likely one day he will be the same. The Ketel One brand is part-owned by Diageo, but it seems unlikely the remaining family share would ever be sold (“It’s a good deal for both parties”, says Nolet). Good on them. In a world of big business, this is one large brand that has retained its family line. Indeed, you get the feeling the Nolets, not least Bob, are so devoted they would have to be craned head-first out of the distillery before they left of their own accord.