Diageo’s new boss, Debra Crowe, takes over a month early

Diageo’s new chief executive Debra Crowe took over the role a month earlier than expected after the company said outgoing leader Sir Ivan Menezes was in hospital recovering from emergency surgery.

The beverage group said Monday that Crowe will begin as interim CEO immediately, ahead of the scheduled July 1 start date in her permanent role, following setbacks in Menezes’ recovery from medical conditions including a stomach ulcer.

“Our thoughts are with our beloved colleague Evan and his family,” the company said in a statement.

Diageo announced in March that Menezes would be stepping down after 10 years running the group. During his tenure, he prioritized the push towards high-end brands and expanded Diageo’s portfolio with big-name acquisitions.

The Crew designation makes the Johnnie Walker whiskey and Smirnoff vodka producer one of only a handful of FTSE 100 companies with a woman at the helm.

Prior to being named chief operating officer last October, Crew managed Diageo’s operations in North America, the company’s largest market, and previously held positions at consumer goods groups including PepsiCo, Kraft Heinz, Nestlé and Mars.

Crew, who also served as a US military officer, takes on the beverage maker’s hard time. In a January trade update, Diageo reported slowing growth in North America, raising concerns that the coronavirus surge in sales of expensive spirits is beginning to subside.

Diageo’s revenue has, for the most part, been resilient to record inflation as consumers continue to spend their money on quality alcoholic beverages despite trading in cheaper food and household products. But Menezes cautioned that “the operating environment remains challenging.”

Last week, a beverage company owned by Sean Combs, known as P Diddy, sued Diageo for alleged racial discrimination, arguing that the company did not invest enough in brands associated with the rapper and that it “treated Mr. Combs and his brands worse than Other than that, because he is black.” Combs’ brands include Cîroc vodka and DeLeón tequila.

Diageo has categorically denied the allegations, describing the differences between the two companies as a “commercial dispute”. “We are saddened that Mr Combs has chosen to restate this as anything but that,” she said.

Diageo has fueled growth in recent years with brand acquisitions such as its $1 billion deal to buy Casamigos tequila from George Clooney and its purchase of Don Julio tequila in 2014. Tequila has been an important profit driver for the company, making up more than half of the group. growth since 2018.

At the time of her appointment, Crowe said it would focus on “continuing Diageo’s exceptional track record of building world-leading brands,” while seeking to enhance its reputation as a “responsible company.”

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