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Drinks sector pays tribute to Ivan Menezes

The drinks trade has been paying tribute to Sir Ivan Menezes, the CEO of Diageo, who died after a short illness.

Ivan Menezes
Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes developed Johnnie Walker’s iconic Keep Walking campaign

Yesterday (7 June), Diageo announced the death of Menezes at the age of 63. Menezes had received treatment for a medical condition, and was in recovery. However, he suffered a ‘significant setback due to complications’, which led to emergency surgery on a stomach ulcer.

His death came just weeks before his planned retirement from Diageo after 10 years at its helm as CEO.

Diageo chief operating officer Debra Crew stepped in as interim CEO on Monday, ahead of her officially taking on the position when Menezes retired.

Javier Ferrán, chairman of Diageo, called Menezes a “thoughtful and passionate colleague and friend – a true gentleman”.

He “shaped Diageo to become one of the best performing, most trusted and respected consumer companies”, Ferrán said.

The spirits industry has been posting tributes to Menezes online.

Philippe Schaus, CEO of Moët Hennessy, the wine and spirits arm of French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, said: “It is a privileged to have known him and to have worked alongside him. Ivan was a wonderful partner to Moët Hennessy and to myself, and I will remember how jovial, quick-minded, smiling and supportive he always was.”

“A pillar of Diageo since day one, Ivan transformed the group whilst at its helm over the last 10 years and shaped our industry. His extensive knowledge of the business and his passion for the stories behind some of the world’s most popular brands compelled nothing short of admiration.”

‘Genuine and authentic’

Alexandre Ricard, chairman and CEO of French spirits giant Pernod Ricard, said he was “deeply saddened” to learn of Menezes’ death.

“Ivan was one of the first people to call me personally when I was appointed as chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard, a gesture I have always remembered,” Ricard recalled of his appointment in 2015.

“In a competitive business world, Ivan remained a profoundly genuine and authentic person.”

Mark Brown, CEO of Buffalo Trace owner Sazerac, described Menezes as “smart, educated, polished, successful” and referenced Ferrán’s remark as a “true gentleman”.

“I had the pleasure of getting to know Ivan over the past 20 years, developed a great deal of admiration and respect for his journey and his ultimate success culminating with his knighthood earlier this year despite having to deal with the challenging times that publicly traded companies invariably have to deal with,” Brown said.

“It is incredibly sad that we will not see the next chapter of Ivan’s stellar career, Ivan had so much more yet to offer. He will be missed by those who knew him and lives he impacted.”

The Scotch Whisky Association’s (SWA) chief executive also called Menezes a “towering figure in Scotch whisky, who not only helped to shape the global success of the industry but laid the foundation for future generations”.

Menezes had served as chair of council for the SWA. Diageo, the world’s biggest Scotch distiller, made a £185 million (US$255m) investment in Scotch whisky tourism in 2018 – the largest single investment programme in the industry.

In September 2021, the firm opened its eight‐floor Johnnie Walker Princes Street visitor experience in Edinburgh, and upgraded four of its Scotch whisky visitor centres.

“It is too soon to encapsulate fully the impact he had on the Scotch whisky industry, that time will come later,” SWA CEO Mark Kent added. “But it is as deep and long lasting as the affection in which he was held by those who knew him best. Aside from being a consummate professional, one of the most successful business leaders of his generation, he was a warm and caring human being.

“Through our grief, that legacy will sustain us, encourage us to follow the example he set, and enable us to remember fondly the time we had with him.”

Ugo Fiorenzo, chairman of trade body the Distilled Spirits Council of the US (Discus) and managing director at Campari America and Canada, described the Diageo CEO as a titan in the industry.

“Ivan Menezes was a true luminary, combining extraordinary leadership with a passion for his craft,” he said. “His contributions will continue to shape our industry and inspire generations to come.”

‘Exceptional leader’ 

Chris Swonger, president and CEO of Discus and, highlighted Menezes’ vast contributions to the spirits sector.

“Ivan was an exceptional leader whose contributions to the spirits industry were immeasurable,” Swonger said. “His visionary approach, unwavering commitment to responsibility, and dedication to building some of the world’s best brands, will forever be remembered. Ivan’s passion for the spirits industry will be greatly missed.

“Under his guidance on the Discus board, the spirits industry experienced tremendous achievements, witnessing remarkable growth, while also prioritising sustainability and diversity initiatives to enhance the entire spirits sector. Ivan’s tireless dedication to fostering inclusivity and his commitment to consumers played a pivotal role in driving the industry forward.”

Francis Creighton, president and CEO of Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA), said Menezes had built Diageo into a “best-in-class international company”.

“His forward-thinking business practices were respected from Wall Street to Main Street and connected with millions of consumers around the world,” Creighton continued. “American distribution partners were proud to partner in building Diageo brands that Sir Ivan himself championed and positioned with bars, restaurants, and off-premise retailers.”

Jack Daniel’s producer Brown-Forman said in a statement that Menezes’ “influence could be felt in every market where beverage alcohol is sold”.

Beam Suntory, owner of brands such as Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark, described Menezes as a “thoughtful and kind leader, and an example for all of us to strive towards”.

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