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Exclusive—Part 2: Interview With New Bacardi President And CEO Ed Shirley

March 9, 2012

In this exclusive interview with Shanken News Daily, new Bacardi president and CEO Ed Shirley talks about his experience, his core strategic principles and his future goals for Bacardi.

SND: What attracted you to Bacardi?

Shirley: First, spirits is a growth business, so that was an attraction. But I was also drawn to the Bacardi story. They’ve been influencers and innovators in the industry for 150 years, having developed many cocktails to expand the industry—the Bacardi Cuba Libre, Daiquiri, Piña Colada and Mojito, for example. I was also drawn to the family history and their struggles for freedom in Cuba—the confiscation of their business and their resilience and creativity in getting their intellectual property trademarks out of the country. I also like the fact that Bacardi is privately held, because it gives the team the opportunity to take the right decisions for the long haul, instead of having to meet short-term, quarter-by-quarter analyst requirements. Of course, we’ll have to deliver in the short term and long term, but being privately held allows us to take a much longer view in terms of strategic choices. As for the brands, it’s not simply Bacardi but also Martini & Rossi, Dewar’s, Bombay Sapphire, Grey Goose, Cazadores and the share in the Patrón business. And the fact that the company has participated in the industry’s consolidation over the last 10-15 years shows that they’re playing to win for the long term. Lastly, there’s a ton of upside “white space” opportunity at Bacardi in terms of geographic expansion, as consumers in emerging markets shift their taste to international brands. There is double-digit growth opportunity there.

SND: How much do you know about the spirits and wine business?

Shirley: From a distribution channel viewpoint, many of the (retail) customers carrying alcoholic beverages are the same customers with whom I’ve had close interaction in the U.S. and around the globe—whether it be Costco, Safeway, Tesco, Carrefour or many others. I know these customers in terms of their criteria, their knowledge and their understanding of what creates a successful business. I’ve got relationships with all of them, at the top. Similarly, in Travel Retail, which is an expanding channel, at Procter & Gamble we had a $3 billion prestige luxury business that’s widely distributed in those same channels as distilled spirits.

SND: What are your key goals for Bacardi?

Shirley: We’ve got to get the core Bacardi business growing again and take advantage of the acquisitions that the company has so successfully made. I’d say North America will be a priority, fueling the expansion of Grey Goose and Bombay Sapphire and developing winning portfolio strategies, as well as figuring out what we’ll do in order to win in emerging markets. I am fired up.

SND: You’ve been credited with reorganizing Gillette’s international business, revitalizing its supply chain and renewing the company’s focus on the consumer. You led a similar shakeup at P&G’s beauty and grooming unit to make it more consumer-responsive and oriented toward higher-margin brands. How relevant will that be to your efforts at Bacardi?

Shirley: I’ve worked in different functional areas very successfully—whether in finance, sales, marketing, supply chain management or general management. That has enabled me to see how things work across an enterprise and has made me a better leader and executive. So I bring a comprehensive background, and I have a passion for understanding how things work. I’m going to be very externally focused—working with our distributors, our customers and our own teams around the globe to understand what’s working and what’s not. When I was at P&G and Gillette, both were very strong on strategy and innovation. Gillette in particular was outstanding on what I would call executional excellence. We brought that capability to P&G, and it strengthened the company. What the Bacardi team and the industry will see in me is someone who’s very clear on strategy and choices, while executing with excellence in the marketplace.

SND: Any other goals in regard to the brands?

Shirley: This company has iconic bands. Grey Goose was on fire in the United States, so we have to take the appeal of this super-premium vodka around the globe, and reinforce to our distributor and retail partners the benefits of trading consumers up to higher-value, better-perceived products that will drive profitability for the category. Clearly the recession had an impact on the industry, but that doesn’t mean we need to stay down in the value or low end of premium areas. There’s still an opportunity with good collaborative business plans to drive premiumization, and our portfolio lends itself to that. That’s one of the things I will be focused on.

SND: Anything you wish to add?

Shirley: I’m just very excited about the opportunity, and I can’t wait to get started.


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