Keith McCulloch


  • Born in Birmingham, England.
  • Attended Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School in Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire – 1958 to 1965
  • Obtained Bachelor of Arts Degree in Geography at the University of Durham in the northeast of England – 1965 to 1968
  • Represented the University in rugby football and track & field.
  • Represented English Universities and British Universities in track & field.
  • Associate Member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (ACA) in England & Wales – 1971
  • Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales – 1981
  • My wife, Gillian (Gill), and I married in 1975. We have four children and currently four grandchildren.

Work History

  • Price Waterhouse (now PWC) Chartered Accountants – 1968 to 1971
  • Proctor & Gamble U.K.- 1971 to 1972
  • Wheatsheaf Group (now ASDA) – 1972 to 1975

Coming to RJR

Joined Tobacco International in the U.K. – 1975

My ex-boss at Wheatsheaf had previously worked for Gallaher in the U.K., and when he took over the TI business in the U.K., he asked me to join him there. It was either Mars (Candy) or RJR Tobacco International (TI) : I chose the devil I knew! I was CFO for R J Reynolds Tobacco U.K., which developed the Dickens &Grant brand and handled the TI import business into the U.K. Our offices in Mayfair had been initially established by Macdonalds, Canada.

RJR Career

  • I was an employee of TI from 1975 to 1995.
  • R J Reynolds Tobacco (U.K.) : CFO – 1975 – 1977
  • TI Asia Pacific Headquarters, Hong Kong  – 1977 to 1985
    • Financial Planning and Accounting Manager
    • VP/CFO Asia Pacific
    • VP Business Development and Manufacturing
  • RJR/MC Tobacco Company, Japan – 1985 to 1990
    • Regional VP, Japan/President of RJR/MC (JV with Mitsubishi Corp.)
  • TI Headquarters, Winston-Salem-  1990 to 1992
    • VP Planning and Business Development
  • TI Geneva – 1992 to 1995
    • Regional VP, Middle East/Near East/Africa

Memorable Events at RJR

  • There are numerous tales from the first Strategic Plan Meetings of TI under the Presidency of E. G. Vimond in 1981. Ed Lang’s margins misunderstanding perhaps being the best. But the meetings were destined for memories from the get-go. We were the first guests at the Helmsley Palace Hotel on Madison Avenue – Michael Jackson’s favorite hotel! The waiting staff in the business meetings area were straight off the street with little or no training, especially the one who dropped a baked potato into EG’s lap. Dick Johnson was mugged taking a stroll around the hotel’s perimeter. Anyway, to the story. E. G. was always wanting to be one of the boys and during a discussion on distributor margins in Hong Kong, he asked Jim Johnston if we were screwing any of the other distributors in Asia: Jim responded quickly and with a straight face – ‘Only the good looking ones, E.G.!’
  • Rouben Chakalian was my first boss when I moved to Japan with the mandate to open the market and quickly take advantage of this opportunity. Rouben was one of my favorite people in TI, a charismatic salesman and a family man. But strategy was not his strong point. We were having the Asia Pacific Strategic Plan presentations in Hong Kong in 1987, just as the market opening discussions were concluding. Rouben doubted that the Japanese would give much ground, but we produced a plan that was based on the opposite. We had discussed the plan the week before the Hong Kong presentations with TI’s head of marketing and good friend, Howard Banwell, in Tokyo. The night before we were to present, there was a group dinner with the North East Asia business unit, whose meetings had reportedly not gone too well. Rouben greeted us with his usual bonhomie with an aside that we were going to get crucified at our meeting the next day! The next morning, I opened our plan presentation with the big Japan opportunity picture and the premise that cigarette importers were going to get significant concessions from the Japanese Government. I also gave my opinion on the super aggressive positions that would be taken by PMI and BAT, concluding with a top line on our TI plan of action. Dale Sisel, then EVP, stopped the presentation for an open discussion on these premises and our plan: he was negative on both, which we had anticipated. Dale asked Rouben for his input: ‘I agree with you, Dale’ was his input. Dale then turned to Howard Banwell, who most eloquently supported our assessment and marketing plan. Dale again turned to Rouben and asked for his input: ‘I agree with Howard’ was his response. The ice was broken: we all had a good laugh and our plan was endorsed. Rouben’s worry beads were at breaking point. I would give anything to read his CIA reports!
  • I was president of the Tobacco Institute of Japan for a year in 1989. Clive Turner, previously head of the U.K. Tobacco Institute, was appointed head of the Asia Smoking and Health Office in Hong Kong. One of his first trips was to Japan. I helped him with the itinerary, but he handled everything else. The first morning, I took Clive to meet with The Ministry of Finance and Senior JTI officials. Clive’s protocol was immaculate. He bowed and presented his business cards with aplomb. The recipients bore somewhat baffled looks: Clive’s name in Japanese had been translated as CREAM TUNA!
  • Lester Pullen was an iconic figure in TI. When I joined, he was my ultimate boss as President of Asia Pacific. New executives were being hired above him, and his demeanor for almost two years was one of fear for his job. But he was a challenging boss as one should be, but he could be very intimidating. It was a change in environment when Lester was promoted to head up Macdonalds in Canada and Jim Johnston took his place in Hong Kong. When four years or so later, Lester was promoted to President of TI, he gave the company a new direction.

After his retirement, he was a frequent visitor to Winston-Salem and held court at his hotel with his old cronies, especially those from the Far East and Canada. On one such occasion, Lester and I had a few minutes together and he challenged me as to why I was wasting my time at Headquarters, when I should be in the field. About a week later, I wrote him a letter outlining my major accomplishments in my first six months in Winston-Salem, notable that I had arranged for one of  the lifts to service only the 5th and 6th floors (TI) from 8am to 8.45am and from 4:30pm to 5:00pm. And more importantly, I had persuaded the powers that be to provide free coffee and tea to all TI staff on both floors. His reply, which I still have in a picture frame, stated that he never knew that he was the only one who got free coffee, but that on a more serious note, meeting or beating sales and earning s targets is one thing, but that getting free coffee and tea and exclusive use of a lift are the things that a fast forward career and ultimate legend status are built on.

Leaving RJR

I left TI in late 1995 under rather contentious circumstances, although there were some RJR watchers who wondered how I had managed to survive in Geneva for more than two years – probably growing the MENEA business and cash flow significantly helped, but also probably created a situation which some people there would not want or allow to continue. It didn’t help that my boss, who had survived in his job for another year mainly as a result of the growth of earnings and cash flow from MENEA was a survival specialist whose support for his staff was the equivalent of a sapling in a hurricane. A new executive from the outside did not help either, especially one whose prior career highlight was to be removed from a U.K. public company at a Shareholders Annual General Meeting. He did not last long at TI either!

But, as the saying goes, there is always a right time to leave. And I will always be very grateful that RJR gave me a massive opportunity to work, see the world and enjoy the benefits.

After RJR

Mattel Vice President – Asia Pacific, based in Los Angeles, USA – 1995 to 1997

(The period of my non-compete clause with TI). It was also somewhat ironic, that I was approached soon after leaving TI by Mattel based on the recommendations of two ex-Philip Morris International  executives from Asia Pacific, who were senior players at Disney!

Built and managed businesses in my own Company, J J Holand Limited – 1998 to 2019

  • Consulting and dispute resolution
  • Niche consumer brands/products, including value brand cigarettes and the 4U2 Cosmetics brand in Asia, which became a full-time assignment from 2005 onwards.

Semi-retirement and grand-children spoiler specialist! – 2020 to present

Gill and I have homes in Buckinghamshire, England, in Roaring Gap, North Carolina, USA, and in Thailand.

Contact Information


Keith McCulloch and I have been friends now for more than thirty years. Even though he is a Brit, High Meadows in North Carolina is also an ‘adopted’ home for Keith and Gill. He is one of the people with whom I connected as part of the RJR family, and one of the ‘international’ people who introduced me to new parts of the world in my work.  Over the years we have met in North Carolina, London, and Bangkok.  But I remember vividly the first time I ever saw him, because it was a unique week in my life. 

For the first time, I was visiting the Far East (courtesy of RJR) in the spring of 1981. This was a non-stop trip to five countries in not many more days than that.  Gene Snow, the RJR Treasurer Far East took me to lunch at a restaurant in Manila.  When we were seated at a table, he said, “See that fellow over there. He is Keith McCulloch.”  We said “hello,” and of course I had no way of knowing that Keith would be one of the people who give me a long friendship and fond memories of my walk down Tobacco Road.  GAH