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Team Artis - May 08, 2013

Indian to head world’s top liquor company

The $23-billion maker of Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, Captain Morgan and vaunted single malts named Menezes successor to its long-serving superstar CEO Paul Walsh who plans to step down next month, earlier than expected. Younger brother of former Citibank chairman and CEO Victor Menezes, Ivan was front-runner for the top job after his elevation as chief operating officer last year. It comes six months after he led an ambitious $2.6 billion takeover of Vijay Mallya's United Spirits Ltd (USL), India's largest liquor company.

The 52 year-old Menezes-an MBA from Kellogg and IIM-A and a graduate of St Stephen's-has an impressive peer group of India-origin CEOs like Anshu Jain (Deutsche Bank), Indira Nooyi (PepsiCo), Ajay Banga (MasterCard) and Rakesh Kapoor (Reckitt Benckiser) steering influential global brands. Even the more conservative European corporations have started handing over reins to Indians as economic growth shifts to the East.

Diageo surprised everyone with the sudden announcement since Walsh was tipped to continue till mid-2014. But Diageo's aggressive push into emerging markets, through big acquisitions, prompted Walsh, one of London's longest-running CEOs, to hand over the job from July 1 this year. "We are delighted to have a leader of Ivan's talents and global experience to succeed Paul Walsh. The handover is being made at a time when the business is strong and Ivan takes on the role of CEO at an exciting stage of the company's global development," said Diageo chairman Franz B Humer.

USL chairman Vijay Mallya said he had "the greatest admiration" for Menezes who called him to convey the good news. "I am happy for a friend who has done well. It was Ivan and I who first started talking about a deal which has created significant value for United Spirits shareholders," Mallya told. The USL stock has soared 80% since the Diageo takeover announcement in November last year-from Rs 1,350 to Tuesday's record high closing of Rs 2,347.  Diageo was formed when Guinness merged with London-based property conglomerate Grand Metropolitan in 1997, the year Menezes boarded the company. The FTSE-100 giant subsequently sold assets like Pillsbury and Burger King to emerge as a focused alcoholic beverages behemoth and owner of single malts like Talisker, Lagavulin, Cragganmore and Caol Ila.

Walsh and Menezes moved Diageo into emerging markets with never before aggression as analysts and shareholders raised concerns about the company trailing French rival Pernod Ricard in key growth geographies like China and India. Diageo embarked on a slew of acquisitions such as Turkey's Mey Icki for $2.1 billion and Brazil's largest cachaca maker Ypioca for $600 million; it also took controlling interest in Quanxing, which owns ShuiJingFang, one of China's best-known baijiu spirits.  Analysts said the biggest challenge Menezes faces will be to navigate Diageo through changing consumer tastes in slowing established markets, while mopping up growth numbers from markets like India, China and Brazil. By 2015, about half of Diageo's revenues are expected to come from emerging markets.