Bacardi's sales have tripled in the past decade as the company developed new brands, acquired others and expanded globally. In an interview with Just-drinks.com's Anne Brockhoff, the company's chairman, president and chief executive, Ruben Rodríguez outlined what was next for the world's largest privately owned spirits company.

Bacardi had long pinned its fortunes on a single product - rum - but that changed dramatically in 1992 with the purchase of Martini & Rossi for $1.8 billion. The Hamilton, Bermuda-based company then added Dewars whisky and Bombay gin in 1998 for another $1.8 billion.

Bacardi has since gone up-market with brands like Bombay Sapphire, created new products like Bacardi Limón and Bacardi O and boosted advertising and promotion spending to 2% of net sales. The strategy is paying off and chairman, president and chief executive, Ruben Rodríguez, expects volume sales to reach 82m cases this year.

Rodríguez says the plan is now simply this: keep up the growth while investing in core brands, developing new products and seeking acquisitions to plug the gaps in Bacardi's line-up.

Topping Bacardi's wish-list are vodka and tequila brands to add to this year's US launch of Türi, a super-premium vodka, and the acquisition of Tequila Cazadores in Mexico, Rodríguez says. The company is also looking to expand its ready-to-drink product lines around the world.

Rodríguez says Bacardi continually reviews its capital structure to make sure it has the financial muscle to pursue such opportunities. The company examines a range of options, including an initial public offering, partnerships or remaining private, and then holds meetings to update shareholders on the findings.

The next meeting is scheduled for January 20 in Coral Gables, Florida, but that doesn't mean any major changes are imminent, Rodríguez says. "The capital structure of the company could be more flexible to allow for major acquisitions, but this is up to the Bacardi family to decide if they agree with that concept. It is something we continually review with them," Rodríguez says.

Bacardi is still largely controlled by descendants of Don Facundo Bacardi, who founded the company in 1862, and its 500-plus shareholders have reportedly rejected past proposals to alter the company's capital structure. Still, such changes may be necessary if Bacardi is to be a major player in the next wave of industry consolidation, says Brian Sudano, senior vice president of consulting services for Beverage Marketing Corp. "The competitive realities, at the end of the day, may force their hand," Sudano says.

However, one option that won't come into play, Rodríguez says, is a merger, in spite of speculation that Bacardi's relationship with Brown-Forman could be headed in that direction. The two companies teamed up last year to bid for Seagram's liquor business, they share distribution agreements in parts of Europe, Asia and Latin America and in April created the Gemini Alliance to bolster US distribution.

"Both companies - Brown-Forman and Bacardi - really treasure their independence," Rodríguez says. "Through this alliance, we've tried to improve the profitability of both companies."

Bacardi also regularly examines its corporate organisation, a process that prompted the recent decision to split the currently combined office of chairman and CEO. The company is searching both internally and externally for a chief executive. But Rodríguez, who will retain the post of chairman, says there is no timeline for filling the new position. "It's part of good governance, and it's the direction corporate America is going," Rodríguez says.

The new CEO will manage a business that Rodríguez says generated sales of $2.9 billion in the fiscal year ended March 31, including US sales of $992m. Operating profit rose to $734m. Net earnings rose to $444m, including one-time gains such as a $155m tax rebate from the Mexican government.

Now the world's fourth-largest spirits maker, Bacardi employs 6,500 people in 45 countries. "Last year was the best year the company has ever had," Rodríguez says. "We had record sales, cash flow and net income. Everything seemed to go our way."

This year's forecast isn't so rosy, however. An economic slowdown in the US and elsewhere, combined with chaotic conditions in many Latin American markets and increased spending on advertising and promotion, could erode net earnings, Rodríguez says.

"We've been hurt in Latin America, like everyone else, by the chaos occurring in Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil. I hope that with stabilization there we will do better than recently," he says. "Overall, we will have record sales this year and net income that will be below last year's figures."

Still, Rodríguez's outlook for Bacardi remains optimistic. "In the last 10 years, the company has tripled in size in sales and earnings," Rodríguez says. "It's a fast-moving company, and I hope that in the next 10 years it will triple again."