A Family Spirit: Alexandre Ricard
The 42-year-old Alexandre Ricard became the youngest head of a CAC 40 company in February 2015 when he took up his position as head of the family at Pernod-Ricard.
Bringing Pernod-Ricard back into family hands
The grandson of Paul Ricard, Alexandre, became the youngest head of a CAC 40 company on 11th February 2015 when he took up his dynastic position at the world’s number two company in wine and spirits.
Pernod-Ricard, a company now worth $10.8 billion, was created in 1975 when two French rivals merged. The French drinks giant also own brands including Irish Distillers Group (Jamesons Irish Whiskey), Allied Domecq (Ballentine’s whiskey, Malibu, Mumm and Perrier-Jouët champagnes), and Swedish group Vin & Sprit, owner of Absolut Vodka, today’s top selling vodka in the US.
This long-planned move to make Ricard chairman and CEO was announced in 2012, shortly after Chairman Patrick Ricard (Alexandre’s uncle) suddenly died. Bringing the company back into family hands, he will take over from previous CEO Pierre Pringuet, the only non-Ricard CEO since the group’s creation.
A story of merit over birth
But while family-controlled firms are more powerful than one would think in this modern age of entrepreneurs and education – making up 19% of the companies in the Fortune Global 500 – the story of Alexandre Ricard is not one of birth over merit
Born in May 1972, Ricard studied on home soil at the prestigious ESCP Business School (Ecole Supérieure de Commerce de Paris) graduating as one of the top in his class before moving to the US where he studied an MA in International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA with majors in Finance and Entrepreneurship at the Wharton School of Business. Following his studies, Ricard then spent much of his early career in London, at both Morgan Stanley and Accenture.
He came home to France and his family heritage in 2003, and keen to experience every area of the business and the different markets around the world, he took varied positions running both distribution and finance in Ireland and Japan. He finally joined the Paris top management in 2011, and took the positions of COO and Deputy CEO in 2012.
Pernod-Ricard suffering slowing sales
But the 42-year-old Ricard takes his position as head of the family at a tricky time. Net profit dropped 5% in the first six months of 2014. And sales are slow in some of the company’s crucial markets: in China, sales are down 23% off the back of the Chinese fight on corruption, and in the US, tough competition and diminished demand for flavoured vodka and sugary spirits, which have traditionally served Pernod-Ricard well in the US, are hitting the company hard.
Accelerating a digital strategy
But this young CEO is confident, and has plans to take his grandfather’s legacy past the current market leader Diageo to become the largest spirits group in the world.
His first step has been to centre business strategies on luxury. The company is now targeting high net worth travellers around the world in Duty Free, pushing a luxury brand awareness, creating aspirational shopper experiences, and stamping individuality on local markets.
And to achieve all this, as a true product of his generation, for Ricard digital innovation is key. From viral star-studded videos that are attracting millions of views, to digital hubs, at-home bar appliances like the Gutenberg Project, and wearable-tech t-shirts that can display personalised messages, Ricard is bringing his grandfather’s company into the modern day. He is also pushing online sales through collaborations with companies such as Tesco and Wallmart, he is streamlining working systems with both a corporate social network Chatter and a global intranet, My Brands, and he is investing in big data and CRM to gain consumer insights.
And as long as he gets the company’s product offering right in each of his markets, it seems likely that Ricard will prove himself to be the right man to turn the fortunes of his family’s business around.