Drinks maker Diageo has announced the departure of its chief executive Sir Ivan Menezes after 10 years at the helm, marking the end of an era for one of the UK’s largest public companies.
In a widely anticipated succession, the company said on Tuesday that Debra Crew — who was recently appointed chief operating officer — would replace Menezes at the maker of Johnnie Walker whisky and Smirnoff vodka at the start of July.
The promotion will make Crew, an American, one of the most prominent female leaders in corporate Britain. Her challenges in the role will include managing inflationary pressures and growing the appeal of Diageo’s premium drinks at a time of strained household budgets.
As chief executive, Menezes prioritised a push into high-end brands and expanded Diageo’s portfolio with the $1bn acquisition of Casamigos.
Menezes’ strategy is regarded in the City as being for the most part successful, helping produce total shareholder returns of 127 per cent in the past 10 years according to the company, outperforming the FTSE 100’s 17 per cent.
However, Diageo reported slowing growth in North America in its most recent trading update in January, raising concerns that drinkers were beginning to avoid expensive spirits after a surge during coronavirus lockdowns.
In contrast to Menezes, who has worked for Diageo since the 1997 merger of Guinness and Grand Metropolitan that created it, Crew is a recent recruit.
She worked for Kraft Foods, Nestlé and Mars earlier in her career, took on more senior positions at PepsiCo under its former chief Indra Nooyi, and briefly ran Reynolds American before its takeover by British American Tobacco.
Crew initially joined Diageo, whose portfolio also includes Tanqueray gin, Baileys liqueur and Guinness, as a non executive director in 2019. She took charge one year later of Diageo’s North America business, its largest market.
The former US military intelligence officer relocated to London when she was made Diageo’s chief operating officer in October, an appointment that was widely seen as a stepping stone for the top job.
In a statement, Crew said she would focus on “continuing Diageo’s extraordinary track record of building world-leading brands” and would seek to enhance its reputation as a “responsible businesses”.
Simon Hales, analyst at Citi, said in a note that he believed “the strategy will be one of evolution, not revolution, for now”.
Javier Ferrán, Diageo’s chair, said Crew had “an impressive track record of delivery both at Diageo and across other global consumer goods companies”.
Menezes said it had been “an enormous honour” to lead Diageo over the past decade.
Shares in Diageo were down 0.5 per cent in morning trading.