Brown: Sazerac remains on acquisition trail

16th July, 2014 by Becky Paskin

Mark Brown, CEO of US drinks giant Sazerac, tells The Spirits Business how his rich history in American whiskey is helping shape the future of Buffalo Trace.


Mark Brown, CEO of Sazerac, says it is the company’s job to sell the story of American whiskey

Every morning, without fail, a privileged few inboxes ping to life with the arrival of an email newsletter containing the latest updates from the global alcoholic drinks industry. For the past 13 years, ever since the dissection of Seagram, Mark Brown, CEO of Sazerac, the third largest drinks group in the US, has reported the industry’s daily news to his colleagues and peers.

“Candidly, it’s a labour of love,” Brown admits. “It’s primarily designed to keep our employees abreast of what’s going on in the industry, but it gets passed along so much I have no clue as to where it ends up.”

Brown’s dedication to sending his newsletter through sickness, health and holidays is commendable but understandable. He has, after all, had a vested interest in the drinks business since 1974, when his parents bought a pub near Dorking, England and put him to work stocking shelves and washing dishes.

Just two years later he joined British cider maker H.P. Bulmer, where he remained for five years, eventually moving to Maryland to re-launch the brand in the US. But the brand was “30 years ahead of its time” in the States, and Brown jumped ship to join Sazerac.

Company of the future

“In those days Sazerac was a regional company, and only did business in nine States when I joined,” he recalls. “We had just 27 customers and 10 brands, so my role was primarily about opening up new markets the company had never been in.”

Brown served as director of new products, national sales manager and eventually vice president of sales and marketing with the group as it gradually increased its US footprint and developed a wide-ranging portfolio that included two Bourbons: Eagle Rare and Benchmark, both acquired from Seagram in 1989. But by 1992, when Sazerac acquired the Buffalo Trace distillery, Brown had his sights set on new horizons.

A role as senior vice president and COO of Brown-Forman’s Select Brands group had opened up, and spying an opportunity to work on an established portfolio that included Jack Daniel’s and Glenmorangie in an international business proved to be too tempting for him.

Brown spent five years with Brown-Forman (no relation), eventually becoming president of its advancing markets group, working to establish the international portfolio in emerging markets across the world.

“I made quite a few round-the-world trips,” laughs Brown. “Jack Daniel’s hadn’t really been developed in markets like China, Russia, Brazil, Africa or India, so my job was to establish beachheads for the brand in all those places. It was one of those eye-opening experiences. I was left with the impression that whisky is universally seen as a high-end, aspirational product, which isn’t true of any other category with the exception of Cognac.”

Brown did well to spot the potential for whisky’s global growth, even in the mid-90s. “I remember the laughter around the tables when it was suggested back in 1996 that Jack could reach 11 million cases,” he says. At the time, Jack Daniel’s was on a respectable five million, but achieved its predicted target in 2012. “There was a certain amount of incredulity and disbelief back then, but I don’t even think Brown-Forman has scratched the surface yet,” Brown muses. “It’s easily got potential to do 20m cases around the world.” Brown’s prediction may not be far off.

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