SB Interviews… Gilbert Ghostine, Diageo Asia Pacific

7th August, 2013 by Tom Bruce-Gardyne

Within international spirits, Gilbert Ghostine – president of Diageo Asia Pacific is the most powerful figure in the region. In an exclusive interview with Tom Bruce-Gardyne he discusses Asia’s vast untapped potential.

Gilbert-Ghostine-Diageo

Gilbert Ghostine, president of Diageo Asia Pacific

Beyond the world of casino banking, football and Formula 1, the words ‘only’ and ‘£6 billion’ don’t often sit next to each other in the same sentence. But this is Gilbert Ghostine’s estimate of the net revenue for international spirits in Asia Pacific where the total alcohol market is said to be worth a staggering £94bn.

“This gives you an idea of how much upside potential there is for leading brands here.” The 53-year-old president of Diageo Asia Pacific and his team are credited with reinvigorating the company’s performance in the region since his appointment in July 2009.

Born in Beirut, Ghostine joined the business in 1993 while working for its Lebanese distributor. He then began his steady ascent of the corporate ladder which led to running large swathes of Europe, the US and Africa, before settling in Singapore which also happens to be the home of Diageo’s Reserve Brands and its Global Travel & Middle East division. It is a pretty full-on job in other words, and attracts plenty of attention from head office.

Our conversation had to wait until a certain Paul Walsh had left town. “Yeah, I’ve just had the boss here for two weeks – it’s very exciting to have Paul in the region.” Later Ghostine tells me it was following his five-week Asian tour last year, that Walsh “went back to Europe and decided to invest a billion pounds in new facilities in Scotland”.

Brown spirits country

Not that the decision was made on the flight home on the back of an envelope, nor that burgeoning demand for whisky in countries like Mexico and Brazil played no part. But there is something special about Scotch in Asia, and the sheer scale of opportunity in emerging markets like greater China and India.

“The great news about China is that it’s a brown spirits market for international spirits. Cognac started the journey and now we’re starting to build the right foundations for Scotch,” says Ghostine. “If you think back to the European days when we were building the category, we used to bring Spanish, Portuguese and French consumers to Scotland.”

VIPs would have been given the full Scots baronial treatment at Drummuir Castle near Dufftown which Diageo has leased since 1994. With no direct flights from Shanghai and a seven-hour time difference, it was never practical to bring Chinese visitors there. “So what we’ve done is brought Scotland to China though our Johnnie Walker House”.

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