Diageo on Tuesday appointed Chief Operating Officer (COO) Debra Crew as CEO to replace retiring long-time boss Ivan Menezes, becoming one of only a handful of women to lead a company in Britain’s blue-chip FTSE 100 index. The world’s biggest spirits company, which makes Johnnie Walker whisky, Tanqueray gin and Don Julio tequila, said Crew, 52, would take up her new role on July 1, bringing the total of female CEO of FTSE 100 members to 10.
An industry veteran who became COO last year, Crew had been president of Diageo North America, its largest market, and Global Supply from 2020. Her elevation comes as Diageo is trying to cement its dominance in the United States and establish several premium brands, in a post-COVID world in which people are going out again and making fewer cocktails at home. The former U.S. military intelligence officer was previously CEO of tobacco company Reynolds American, where she had also served as COO. Prior to that Crew held roles at Pepsico, Kraft Foods, Nestle and Mars. “Crew was the most likely CEO successor, so no surprise there,” said Tineke Frikkee, a fund manager at Diageo investor Waverton Asset Management. “She is very experienced in Diageo’s largest market, the U.S.”
“The timing of succession is always difficult to predict but with Ivan Menezes aged 63, it was imminent. I expect Diageo strategy to remain unchanged,” Frikkee added. Menezes, who joined Diageo after its formation through the merger of Guinness and Grand Metropolitan in 1997, grew sales sharply and steered the company through multiple brand acquisitions as well as a major sustainability overhaul. Under his leadership the company become responsible for about a tenth – or 2 billion pounds ($2.5 billion) – of the United Kingdom’s total food and drinks exports.
Shares in Diageo were down marginally on Tuesday morning. They have risen about 76% over the past decade, outperforming the pan-European STOXX 600 index and London’s blue-chip FTSE 100. “This had been widely anticipated. Nonetheless, we regard Ivan’s departure as a meaningful loss for Diageo – he’s been a brilliant CEO,” RBC analyst James Edward Jones said. “Diageo was in poor shape when Ivan took over; now it’s one of the most impressive companies we cover.”
“Debra Crew is something of an unknown quantity to us. She’s got an extensive background in consumer staples … nonetheless, Ivan will be a very hard act to follow.” Laurence Whyatt, analyst at Barclays, said: “The market wants more of the same. Diageo has outperformed in tequila, has excellent marketing capabilities and is making huge inroads into Scotch globally, and particularly in India and LatAm. “I want to see a continuation of this long-term thinking – laying down more inventory for future premiumisation and continued investment in digital marketing to ensure they stay ahead.”