Brown-Forman CEO Paul Varga to retire

30th May, 2018 by Melita Kiely

Brown-Forman chief executive officer Paul Varga will retire at the end of 2018 following 31 years at the US-based company.

paul-varga

Brown-Forman CEO Paul Varga will retire at the end of 2018

Varga will step down as CEO from 31 December 2018 and will be succeeded by chief operating officer Lawson E Whiting, who was unanimously approved by the board of directors.

The current CEO first took up the position in 2005, taking over from Owsley Brown II.

Since taking the reins at the company, Varga has steered the business to focus on its premium spirits portfolio, which includes brands such as Jack Daniel’s, Woodford Reserve and Old Forester.

Varga has also been recognised for “significantly” expanding the company’s global presence, embarking on “meaningful” brand innovations, deploying capital and championing the firm’s corporate responsibility, diversity and inclusion agendas.

Furthermore, under Varga’s leadership Brown-Forman has reported some of the “highest and most consistent growth rates” within the spirits industry. Brown-Forman’s total shareholder return during Varga’s time as CEO has been 17%, bolstered by an increase in the company’s market capitalisation, which today equates to approximately US$28 billion.

Varga, who will remain on the Brown-Forman board of directors, said: “It has been a privilege to serve Brown-Forman over the last three decades. In determining the best time to implement the final piece of this succession plan, I naturally considered the readiness of the company to navigate a leadership transition such as this and now is the right time.

“Also, having worked with Lawson over the last two decades, I believe, and the board has concluded, that he is ideally suited and very well prepared to succeed as Brown-Forman’s next CEO.”

George Garvin Brown IV, chairman of the board since 2007, thanked Varga for his work as CEO.

“On behalf of our board of directors, the employees, and all Brown-Forman shareholders, I would like to express my gratitude to Paul for leading the extended Brown-Forman community for the last 15 years,” said Brown. “Paul entered the leadership ranks at a time when the future of American whiskey was in doubt, even in the United States. He will retire having successfully grown the Jack Daniel’s franchise into one of the most valuable spirits trademarks in the world.

“His transformation of our portfolio, coupled with his multi-year execution of balanced shareholder-friendly capital deployment, marks his tenure as arguably the most successful CEO in our industry’s modern era.”

Whiting Lawson

Lawson E Whiting will succeed Paul Varga as Brown-Forman CEO

Varga’s successor, Whiting, started his career at Brown-Forman in corporate development and investor relations. He has worked in numerous leadership positions, taking on assignments in finance, marketing and commercial functions in the US and Europe.

Whiting also worked as EVP and chief brands and strategy officer from 2015-2017, when he was responsible for reshaping the business’ portfolio, including the acquisition of the BenRiach company in Scotland and the launch of Slane Irish Whiskey.

He has also held posts as SVP and chief brands officer, and SVP and managing director for Western Europe.

Whiting commented: “I am honoured and excited to become Brown-Forman’s next CEO. We will continue to focus on the premium American whiskey category and further strengthen our super-premium brand portfolio, as well as develop our people around the world.”

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