Ivan Menezes, who led a liquor giant, dies at 63
By Daniel E. Slotnik
Ivan Menezes, who as CEO of the spirits corporation Diageo used his canny understanding of the drinking public to help the company grow into a global colossus, died June 7 in London. He was 63.
The cause was complications of emergency surgery for a stomach ulcer, a Diageo spokesperson said.
Diageo is omnipresent in the world of alcohol, selling more than 200 brands in more than 180 countries — including Smirnoff vodka, Tanqueray gin, Johnnie Walker scotch, Captain Morgan rum and Guinness beer — and has the largest global net sales in some spirit categories.
Menezes was trained in marketing, and closely studied consumer sentiment. To him, spirits provided what he called “accessible luxury” to customers — a dram of the good life even in an unstable economy.
“The example I like to use is, if you are an average New Yorker, it may be tough to spend a night at the Four Seasons,” Menezes told The New York Times in 2005, “but you could walk into the Four Seasons bar and enjoy a glass of Johnnie Walker Blue Label on the rocks.”
Menezes, who became chief executive in 2013, was at Diageo from its inception. He was Guinness’ strategy director in 1997 when the company merged with Grand Metropolitan PLC, which owned Burger King and Pillsbury, creating a conglomerate reportedly worth $33 billion.
After the merger, he became global marketing director for the company’s beverage division in 1998.
One of his first challenges was making Johnnie Walker appeal to a new generation. It was not so much that young imbibers disliked the taste of blended scotch, but rather that the drink’s traditional, tartan image felt fusty, Diageo’s market research found.
“We are losing older drinkers by the bucketful, but only gaining new ones by the thimbleful,” Menezes was quoted as saying in 1999 in The Scotsman newspaper. “We will all benefit from everyone focusing on building brands and making their brands relevant to younger consumers.”
That year, Menezes spent 100 million pounds (about $224 million in today’s dollars) to revamp Johnnie Walker’s image with an international advertising campaign developed by the agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty.
The campaign introduced the slogan “Keep walking” and featured three television advertisements, including one in which actor Harvey Keitel walked into a coliseum filled with lions as he talked about overcoming stage fright; another showed French funambulist Ramon Kelvink walking a tightrope between buildings.
“With this campaign, we hope to build an emotional bond with the consumer through the universal territory of inspiring personal progress,” Menezes told Campaign magazine.
A quarter-century later, Johnnie Walker, one of the most popular scotch brands on the planet, still uses the “Keep walking” tagline. Diageo said that Johnnie Walker’s retail sales value had increased from about $5.1 billion in 2012 to more than $8 billion in 2022.
Under Menezes, Diageo expanded its tequila offerings, trading its Bushmills Irish whiskey brand to Casa Cuervo in exchange for complete control of its Don Julio tequila brand and $408 million in cash in 2014. The company also bought Casamigos, the tequila brand created by George Clooney and two friends, Rande Gerber and Michael Meldman, in a deal worth up to $1 billion in 2017. Tequila is now the company’s second-largest seller, after scotch.
Menezes also removed a layer of regional management, facilitating communication between the global company and country-based businesses and shrinking its employee base from about 36,000 to nearly 28,000. He was credited with reducing Diageo’s carbon emissions and pushing for greater diversity at the company by adding more women at top levels. He had planned to retire this year; the new CEO is Debra Crew.
She takes the helm as the company faces a recent lawsuit filed by Sean Combs, the rapper known as Diddy, who has accused the company of racial bias for neglecting the vodka and tequila brands they co-own. Diageo denied Combs’ allegations, saying in a statement that “we are confident the facts will show that he has been treated fairly.”
Ivan Manuel Menezes was born July 10, 1959, in Pune, India, to Nina and Manuel Menezes. His mother taught music and French; his father was chair of the Indian Railway Board.
After graduating from St. Mary’s High School in Mount Abu, India, Menezes earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1979 at St. Stephen’s College, the University of Delhi.
He then studied business policy and marketing at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, and took a job with Nestlé in New Delhi in 1981.
He moved to the United States to study business administration at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, completing his master’s degree in 1985, then took a job as a business and management consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton based in Chicago and London.
He was vice president of group marketing for Whirlpool in Northern Italy from 1992 until he left for Guinness in 1997.
He held several other positions at Diageo, including chief operating officer and president of the company’s North American operations, before succeeding Paul S. Walsh as CEO.
He is survived by his wife, Shibani, with whom he lived in London; two brothers, Victor, the former chair and CEO of Citibank, and Michael; a sister, Marisa; a daughter, Rohini Menezes; and a son, Nikhil.