Drinks industry mourns sudden death of Diageo CEO

The drinks industry is reeling following the shock news that Diageo CEO Sir Ivan Menezes has passed away suddenly at age 63. He was hospitalised earlier this week and receiving treatment for medical conditions including a stomach ulcer.

Menezes was one of Britain’s longest serving and most respected FTSE Chief Executives, transforming Diageo into the world’s leading premium drinks company and which accounts for 10% of the UK’s total food and drinks exports.

He joined Diageo at its creation in 1997 and held many senior positions in a career spanning over 25 years at the company. 

In January 2023, Menezes was awarded a Knighthood for services to Business and to Equality in His Majesty The King’s 2023 New Year Honours List.

He was due to retire on 30 June 2023.

Diageo Chairman Javier Ferrán said: “This is an incredibly sad day. Ivan was undoubtedly one of the finest leaders of his generation.

“Ivan was there at the creation of Diageo and over 25 years, shaped Diageo to become one of the best performing, most trusted and respected consumer companies. I saw first-hand his steadfast commitment to our people and to creating a culture that enabled everyone to thrive. He invested his time and energy in people at every level of the company and saw potential that others may have overlooked. This is one of many reasons why he was beloved by our employees, past and present.

“Ivan’s energy and his commitment to diversity created a truly inclusive business and enabled Diageo to have a positive impact on the communities we serve. His passion for our brands was second-to-none and in his heart, he remained the Johnnie Walker marketer from his early days. The desire to build the world’s best brands never left him.

“We are truly privileged to have had the opportunity to work alongside such a thoughtful and passionate colleague and friend – a true gentleman. He has built an extraordinary legacy. 

“Ivan leaves behind many friends and a beloved family, and our thoughts are particularly with his wife, Shibani and his two children, Nikhil and Rohini. On behalf of the Board, Executive Committee and all our employees, we extend our deepest sympathies to them.”

Diageo Australia MD Angus McPherson said: “It was an incredible honour to work for a company lead by Ivan, a truly humble, endearing and generous man whose passion for this business and our iconic brands was palpable.

“He may have left us far too soon but his vision and his legacy will live on and will continue to inspire every Diageo employee for years to come.”

Former Diageo Australia MD David Smith, who is now Lion Australia MD said: “Ivan was a wonderful person, a truly inspirational leader fiercely caring about brands, people, the business, the industry, and always, not only doing the right things, but doing things right. It’s so sad he’s gone, he will be greatly missed in all corners of the world.”

Drinks companies and organisations around the world have paid tribute to the beloved Diageo CEO. Even the New York Stock Exchange paid tribute to Menezes, describing him as a “long-time friend and supporter of the NYSE community” and lighting up its screens with memorial images.

Pernod Ricard CEO Alexandre Ricard said: “Ivan was one of the first people to call me personally when I was appointed as Chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard, a gesture I have always remembered. In a competitive business world Ivan remained a profoundly genuine and authentic person. “

Campari Group said: “At Campari Group we are deeply saddened to learn that Sir Ivan Menezes passed away. We extend our condolences to his family and join his DIAGEO colleagues in the grief for the loss of a global leader in our industry.”

The Scotch Whisky Association Chief Executive Mark Kent said: “Sir Ivan was a towering figure in Scotch Whisky, who not only helped to shape the global success of the industry but laid the foundation for future generations.

“It is too soon to encapsulate fully the impact he had on the Scotch Whisky industry, that time will come later. But it is as deep and long lasting as the affection in which he was held by those who knew him best. Aside from being a consummate professional, one of the most successful business leaders of his generation, he was a warm and caring human being.”

Brown-Forman posted this tribute:

Moët Hennessy CEO Philippe Schaus said: “It is with great sorrow that I’ve learned the passing of Diageo CEO and industry figure Ivan Menezes. It is a privileged to have known him and to have worked alongside him. Ivan was a wonderful partner to Moët Hennessy and to myself, and I will remember how jovial, quick-minded, smiling and supportive he always was.

“A pillar of Diageo since day 1, Ivan transformed the group whilst at its helm over the last 10 years and shaped our industry. His extensive knowledge of the business and his passion for the stories behind some of the world’s most popular brands compelled nothing short of admiration. Moët Hennessy teams across the world join me in sending his family and everyone at Diageo our deepest condolences.” 

Bacardi posted this tribute:

CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council of United States Chris Swonger said: “Ivan was an exceptional leader whose contributions to the spirits industry were immeasurable. Under his guidance on the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States board, the spirits industry experienced tremendous achievements, witnessing remarkable growth, while also prioritizing sustainability and diversity initiatives to enhance the entire spirits sector.”

Carlsberg Group said: “We are deeply saddened to hear about the death of Sir Ivan Menezes. From everyone at Carlsberg Group, we send our condolences to his family, his Diageo colleagues, and to all in the drinks industry who had the pleasure of knowing and working with him.” 

Beam Suntory posted this tribute:

CEO of Remy Cointreau Eric Vallat said: “Our industry has today lost one of its most zealous and inspiring ambassadors. Ivan Menezes was authentic, passionate, generous, a spirits visionary whose knowledge brought Diageo among the top premium drinks players. I won’t forget the simple, warm welcome Ivan gave to my request to meet him when I joined Rémy Cointreau.

“No doubt these shared values – both with employees and competitors- will endure thanks to the energy of Debra Crew.”

Debra Crew has assumed the position of Diageo CEO and was due to join the Board as an executive director on 1 July 2023. 

Crew simply posted a poignant image (above) on her LinkedIn timeline in tribute to Menzes.

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Categories: Business