Stoli CEO: Going ‘back to basics’ critical to success

29th July, 2016 by Kristiane Sherry

2016 is set to be a transformative year for Stoli Group USA – president and CEO Patrick Piana reveals big ambitions for the company led by organic growth, innovation and partnership.

Patrick-Piana

Stoli Group USA president and CEO Patrick Piana

Picture the scene: a gigantic 16-floor ramp barely a stone’s throw from the Los Angeles Coliseum. A lone snowboarder waits at the top, something of a curious sight given the 22°C heat. Even more bizarre, the snowboarder is clasping a cocktail shaker in a gloved hand.

The figure is pro snowboarder Eric Willett, who is about to attempt to create a ‘Big Air Mule’, by carrying the cocktail shaker down the enormous ramp and performing a backflip. He duly does, sticking the landing and then, cool as you like, pouring the cocktail into a waiting Stoli Signature Mule Mug, to the delight of a cheering crowd.

“It’s really about having an edge on what we do,” says Patrick Piana, the recently appointed Stoli Group USA president and CEO, as he recalls the stunt. “You basically had about 60,000 consumers, 25 to 30-years-old… And these are the type of events where you can really continue to inspire customers to join the brand.”

‘Inspire’ seems to be Piana’s buzzword as we discuss Stoli, the brand’s place in the wider market and his aspirations for the company as a whole looking forward. He joined Stoli Group USA, the North American subsidiary of SPI Group, in June 2015 following a period when, in his words, “the brand had been going through more difficult times”.

Piana had spent the previous five years in France, where he served as a very successful CEO to Cognac brand Rémy Martin. Under his charge, revenues rebounded to double and profits trebled – but “after that I think it was time for me to move on to something more entrepreneurial and exciting”, Piana says.

Stoli’s transformation

Even if he doesn’t express it outright, from speaking with Piana you get the impression that he enjoys a challenge. If not upheaval, he certainly joined Stoli after a period of transformative change. Back in February 2015, Stoli parent SPI Group announced Rob Cullins’ promotion to Stoli Group CEO.

At the same time, Piana’s predecessor John Esposito became chairman of the subsidiary and Rene Lek, formerly of Pepsico, joined as SPI Group CFO. Val Mendeleev, who had served as SPI Group CEO, left the company in August 2015 after almost seven years with the firm.

But amid the whirlwind there was that potential to inspire. The Stoli USA role was appealing because of the long-term vision for building the business, Piana says, adding that the strong willingness to invest in the brand and in its people also had a pull factor. “And very honestly, the opportunity above and beyond the existing plan to grow the portfolio in other categories, as we did with Bayou rum and many other projects we have, was very exciting to me.”

Stoli Group USA’s interest in Bayou Rum was one of the first hints that the subsidiary had spirits aspirations beyond its core vodka proposition. In October, it announced the signing of an exclusive multi-year distribution deal with producer Louisiana Spirits LLC, which came into effect from 1 January 2016.

“The opportunity to partner with a powerful, brand-focused organisation like Stoli Group USA will help us achieve our long-term vision of establishing Bayou Rum as the leading American rum on the market,” Trey Litel, co-founder and president of Louisiana Spirits said at the time.

It was a move that squarely fits within Piana’s business priorities for the next 12 months. With one deal under his belt, next, he says: “We have to grow the brand and we have to grow the business – that’s the business we’re in.” He stresses it is imperative that his entire organisation – Stoli USA, Canada, distribution partners and retail partners – is extremely focused and aligned when it comes to executing the business plan.

Piana is precise with that vision. “I want the company to… make sure that we look at every single opportunity we have in order to improve our competitive position compared to the rest of the market.” That strategy, he says, has organic growth, innovation and partnerships at the core.

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