Ivan Menezes, Who Led a Liquor Giant, Dies at 63

Ivan Menezes, the chief executive of Diageo, a renowned spirits corporation, passed away on June 7 in London at the age of 63. With his astute understanding of consumer preferences in the realm of beverages, Menezes played a pivotal role in propelling the company to become a global powerhouse. The cause of his death was complications arising from emergency surgery for a stomach ulcer, as confirmed by a spokesperson from Diageo.

Diageo’s influence spans across the alcohol industry, with a ubiquitous presence in over 180 countries, offering a portfolio of more than 200 brands. Some of their notable offerings include Smirnoff vodka, Tanqueray gin, Johnnie Walker Scotch, Captain Morgan rum, and Guinness beer. In certain spirit categories, Diageo boasts the highest global net sales, solidifying its position as a major player in the market.

Mr. Menezes (pronounced muh-NAY-zess) 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,” Mr. Menezes said of that exclusive restaurant in an interview with 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.”

Mr. Menezes, who became chief executive in 2013, was at Diageo from its inception. He was Guinness’s strategy director in 1997 when the company merged with Grand Metropolitan P.L.C., 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,” Mr. Menezes was quoted as saying in 1999 in the Scottish newspaper The Scotsman. “We will all benefit from everyone focusing on building brands and making their brands relevant to younger consumers.”

That year Mr. 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 the actor Harvey Keitel walked into a coliseum filled with lions as he talked about overcoming stage fright; another showed the 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,” Mr. 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 Mr. Menezes, Diageo expanded its tequila offerings, trading its Bushmills Irish whiskey brand to Casa Cuervo in 2014 in exchange for complete control of its Don Julio tequila brand and $408 million in cash. The company also bought Casamigos, the tequila brand created by George Clooney and two friends, Rande Gerber and Michael Meldman, in a deal in 2017 worth up to $1 billion. Tequila is now the company’s second-largest seller, after Scotch.

As chief executive Mr. Menezes 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 work force diversity by adding more women at top levels. He had planned to retire this year; the new chief executive 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 Mr. Combs’s allegations, saying in a statement that “we are confident the facts will show that he has been treated fairly.”

Ivan Manuel Menezes was born on July 10, 1959, in Pune, India, to Nina and Manuel Menezes. His mother taught music and French; his father was chairman of the Indian Railway Board.

After graduating from St. Mary’s High School in Mount Abu, India, Mr. Menezes earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1979 from 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. He then took a job as a business and management consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton, based in Chicago and London.

Mr. Menezes 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 chief executive.

He is survived by his wife, Shibani, with whom he lived in London; two brothers, Victor, the former chairman and chief executive of Citibank, and Michael; a sister, Marisa; a daughter, Rohini Menezes; and a son, Nikhil.

Mr. Menezes, who was a British and American citizen as well as an overseas citizen of India, was knighted by King Charles III in January for his services to business and equality.

When it came to his own taste in beverages, Mr. Menezes preferred classics like a Johnnie Walker Black and soda, or a pint of Guinness, though, as he said during an appearance on CNBC on St. Patrick’s Day in 2007, sometimes one was not enough.

“What I will say about Guinness,” he said, “my favorite pint is always my next pint.”

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