Exclusive: Esposito Tapped As President Of Stoli’s U.S. OperationsJanuary 24, 2013
Former Bacardi USA president John Esposito has been tapped to run Stolichnaya vodka’s U.S. operations, effective Monday.
Esposito will be setting up Stolichnaya’s North American headquarters in New York City. He will assemble an organization of 70-90 people by September of this year, with key executive roles likely to be filled well before that. Stoli already has 18 brand ambassadors in the market, and Esposito said he will retain all of them.
The hiring of Esposito follows last November’s decision by Stoli brand-owner SPI Group to terminate its U.S. marketing accord with William Grant & Sons USA, effective January 1, 2014.
“My objective over the next six months will be to secure the team and ensure a smooth transition with William Grant & Sons USA, so it can be a win-win for both of us,” Esposito said. “William Grant is still the agency of record, and we will review the business and work closely together to maximize relationships with our distributors.”
Esposito, whose new title is president, SPI North America, has decades of experience in the drinks industry. He served as president of Bacardi USA from 2006 to 2011, where he helped grow the portfolio and kept Grey Goose atop the ultra-premium vodka segment despite the stiff economic headwinds of 2008 and 2009.
Prior to leading Bacardi, Esposito was president and CEO of Moët Hennessy USA, starting there as senior vice president of national sales in 1992 and rising to become president and CEO seven years later. At Moët Hennessy USA, Esposito took the portfolio from 745,000 cases in 1995 to 2.1 million cases in 2005. Esposito’s resumé also includes executive roles at W.A. Taylor (Allied Domecq), Charmer Sunbelt and Seagram.
Stolichnaya has been with William Grant & Sons USA since 2009, joining the Grant portfolio after its previous U.S. importer, Pernod Ricard USA, acquired Absolut vodka in 2008.
After reaching a high-water mark of 2.2 million cases in 2007, Stoli saw its volume tick down over the next three years to hit 1.8 million cases in 2010, according to Impact Databank. Since then, the brand has seen modest volume increases—growing by 1% in 2011 to 1.82 million cases and rising by 1.6% last year to 1.85 million cases.
SPI Group CEO Val Mendeleev said in a statement that the company is “very proud to have John build and lead our U.S. operations. He is one of the most experienced and respected executives in our industry.”