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Interview, Part One: Pernod Ricard CEO Alex Ricard

March 26, 2015

Although Alex Ricard took the helm of Pernod Ricard only last month, the 42-year-old has an intimate knowledge of the business. Ricard, the grandson of company co-founder Paul Ricard and the nephew of former chairman and CEO Patrick Ricard, joined the Paris-based drinks marketer in 2003, taking a position in the audit and development department. In 2008, after holding several different posts around the globe, he became CEO of Pernod subsidiary Irish Distillers. In 2011, Ricard joined Pernod’s executive board and was named managing director of the company’s distribution network. The following year, he officially became heir apparent to longtime chief executive Pierre Pringuet when he was appointed deputy CEO and COO.

Ricard has arrived with a clear mandate: deliver top-line growth that propels Pernod Ricard to a position of industry leadership. He recently met with Impact managing editor Peter Zwiebach to discuss how he plans to realize that ambitious goal.

SND: Now that you’ve taken the helm at Pernod Ricard, what are your top priorities?

Ricard: I have two very clear priorities: achieving top-line growth and instilling an entrepreneurial mindset. Both are fundamental to my chief ambition of taking Pernod Ricard to a position of industry leadership. That will come through top-line growth. I want to take that spirit of entrepreneurship, which is part of Pernod Ricard’s DNA, and both maintain and expand upon it as our company continues to grow. Pernod Ricard is a decentralized organization. People are empowered locally to make the decisions, and they’re responsible for carrying them out. We have the largest portfolio of premium brands in the industry, and our business model is second to none, in terms of our fully owned global distribution network. So our priorities are clear, as is our strategy for realizing them—premiumization, innovation and expansion.

SND: How are you pursuing this strategy?

Ricard: Premiumization has been one of the biggest accelerators. Our portfolio is perfectly placed to leverage it, and we’re now sharpening our focus with a global luxury strategy. Innovation is also crucial, in various ways. We’re innovating on products and experiences, but also on technology. We’ve developed collaborative platforms internally within Pernod Ricard, allowing people to leverage what I call collective intelligence in a much faster way—with no boundaries—from a geographical viewpoint. We’re getting better and faster insight from consumers through digital technology, and we’re increasingly looking to e-commerce as a new channel for transactions. Regarding expansion, we’re exploring new frontiers, such as sub-Saharan Africa. That’s led to very strong top-line growth.

SND: The company’s transformation since 2000 has been especially dramatic in the U.S. How you do feel about your position there?

Ricard: We’ve grown significantly over the years in the U.S. market, which is good news, because it’s by far the world’s largest premium spirits market. The very positive macroeconomic signs in the U.S. have not yet fully translated to dynamic consumption of spirits. However, we’ve seen growth in the on-trade and off-trade, driven by premiumization and brown spirits, both whiskies and Cognac. Absolut is the number-one premium imported vodka. Jameson’s sustained success continues, as it’s growing very nicely across the market. And so is The Glenlivet, the leading malt in the U.S. Malibu has also been progressing well. Then, when you look at emerging brands, we have two in the Tequila category: Olmeca Altos at the super-premium end and Avión at the ultra-premium end.

SND: Pernod Ricard is the leading Cuban-produced rum player with Havana Club. If the U.S. embargo with Cuba were to be lifted, what would be your next step?

Ricard: The Havana Club trademark is still a topic for debate in the U.S. But beyond that, my position is the same that we took about 18 months ago: if the embargo were to be lifted one day—and obviously that’s beyond our control—but if it were to be lifted, Pernod Ricard would be the very first company to sell Cuban rum in the U.S. market.

The full interview with Alex Ricard appears in the March 1&15 issue of Impact.

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