"I feel that this is my company" - Interview, Bacardi CEO-in-waiting Mahesh Madhavan- Part I

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Earlier this week, Bacardi unveiled its CEO succession plan that will see Mahesh Madhavan, the current regional president for Asia, Middle East & Africa, become regional president for Europe ahead of replacing Mike Dolan in April next year. In the first of just-drinks' exclusive two-part interview, Olly Wehring speaks to Madhavan about his career to-date, and looks at the mechanics of the succession plan.

Mahesh Madhavan will become Bacardis CEO in April next year

Mahesh Madhavan will become Bacardi's CEO in April next year

just-drinks: Congratulations on your promotion. You must be delighted.

Mahesh Madhavan: Absolutely. I'm really excited and looking forward to the job.

j-d: Talk me through your career so far with Bacardi.

MM: It's been 20 years so far. I'm actually an engineer by profession, so I started working initially for a company that made warships for the navy. I didn't really like engineering, so I did an MBA. Then, I spent four years working for a consumer product company selling soap and shampoo. After that, I spent two years in advertising and in 1994 I joined IDV, which is now Diageo. While there, I helped launch a whole bunch of brands in India.

In 1997, when Bacardi came into the country, that's when I joined them, as head of marketing - during my time there we overtook Smirnoff to become the largest international spirits brand in India. In 2001, the opportunity arose to move to Bangkok to head up the Thailand business - I stayed there for six-and-a-half years and in that time took the company's sales from around THB300m (US$8.5m) to close-to THB1bn. The unit, which was a JV with Hong Kong's Jardine's Wine & Spirits, came under sole ownership in 2004. We then had the opportunity to reboot operations in the Philippines.

Then, in 2007, I came back to India, as the MD was retiring. I took the mantle of the head of South Asia; India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal. In six years, we grew the company by four times. Again, in 2009, we bought out our JV partner. A year later, I got my old area of South-East Asia added to my portfolio. The emphasis now was on expanding into new markets like Vietnam and Indonesia.

I don't know if it's a bug in me, but every three years I get a sense that I should do something new. In 2014, I set up a regional office in Dubai for the Middle East & Africa. We used to operate from Europe. Setting up in Dubai and getting people in place took most of 2014 and 2015 - we became one of the fastest-growing regions for Bacardi at that time. India and South-East Asia was then added on to us in 2015.

Now, in 2017, it's another new transition for me - I'll be moving to Geneva at the end of the month and I'm really looking forward to what I can contribute to growing in Europe and other parts of the world.

j-d: Why move someone with your experience of emerging markets to head up the developed region of Europe?

MM: I've been asked this question by some of my colleagues in Europe and the US. I don't have knowledge of these markets, but what I bring is a new perspective. Most of the markets I've worked in are pretty dark - you've got to be constantly innovative in coming up with properties to build your brand, in an environment that is pretty hostile to the whole liquor industry. So, going into a developed market, I have a new perspective and a new way of thinking.

I believe also that I can help, in that I have a focus on building people. It's all about building talent early and exporting that talent to other parts of the world. I'm hoping to enthuse that inspiration among the team, to bring a sense of ownership and passion to the sales front-line in the same way that I feel about this company - I feel that this is my company. Everything I have done in the company, I've done while thinking it's my own. If we can get that same feeling into every individual in the company, it'll be something very unique that our competitors cannot get so easily. That's one of our key strengths, and I'm looking forward to building that up now.

Along with that, there is also the building of some of the commercial expertise in the emerging markets and taking it across to other markets - in Eastern Europe, for example, I think there are a lot of synergies with some of our markets in Africa, whether that's route-to-market, or things like that. I'd like to believe I'm more of a conductor of an orchestra that consists of our brands and our people. It's about getting the best out of them for the benefit of the whole company.

For part two of just-drinks' exclusive interview with Mahesh Madhavan, click here

Sectors: HR – personnel, Spirits

Companies: Bacardi Ltd

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