Industry pays tribute after Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes dies aged 63

By Kristiane Sherry |

Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes passed away this week following a short illness.

Global leaders from drinks, finance and business have paid tribute to “thoughtful and passionate” Ivan Menezes, Diageo’s long-serving CEO who died this week following a short illness.

Diageo, the world’s biggest spirits company, said on Wednesday that he had passed away “with his family at his side”. He was 63 years old. 

Chairman Javier Ferrán described Menezes as “one of the finest leaders of his generation”.

“Ivan was there at the creation of Diageo and over 25 years, shaped Diageo to become one of the best performing, most trusted and respected consumer companies.” He said in a statement. 

“I saw first-hand his steadfast commitment to our people and to creating a culture that enabled everyone to thrive. He invested his time and energy in people at every level of the company and saw potential that others may have overlooked. This is one of many reasons why he was beloved by our employees, past and present.”

Menezes joined Diageo in 1997 when it was formed with the merger of Grand Metropolitan and Guinness.

After serving as Group Integration Director, he became Global Marketing Director UDV and was credited with creating the instantly recognisable ‘Keep Walking’ campaign for Johnnie Walker.

He was appointed to the board as Executive Director of Diageo in 2012, and named CEO in July 2013. He was due to retire on 30 June 2023.

Menezes successfully guided Diageo through the Covid-19 pandemic and today Diageo holds a net sales value 36% larger in 2019.

According to Diageo figures, the business accounts for 10% of the UK’s entire food and drink exports.

A passion for equality

While his businesses accomplishments are many, Menezes will perhaps be remembered most for his drive to see gender and racial equality in the company he led. 

In 2008 there were no women on Diageo’s Executive Committee. Today, over half are women – including his successor as CEO, Debra Crew.

Almost half of the Executive Committee is ethnically diverse.

Under Menezes’ leadership, over 40% of Diageo’s global senior leadership positions are held by women, and 37% are ethnically diverse. Diageo was named the top company in the UK for women in leadership by the 2021 Hampton Alexander Review, and number two globally in Equileap’s 2023 Gender Equality Report.

Menezes is credited with concepting Johnnie Walker’s Keep Walking line.

Beyond Diageo, Menezes was Chairman of ‘Movement to Work’, a voluntary collaboration of businesses tackling youth unemployment, from 2017 to 2020, and was an ongoing donor to Pratham, a children’s education charity in India. 

In January 2023, Ivan was awarded a Knighthood for services to Business and to Equality in His Majesty The King’s 2023 New Year Honours List.

“We are truly privileged to have had the opportunity to work alongside such a thoughtful and passionate colleague and friend – a true gentleman. He has built an extraordinary legacy,” Ferrán continued.

‘An incredible legacy’

Executives from the drinks industry and beyond have shared tributes to Menezes in statements and on LinkedIn.

“Ivan was one of the first people to call me personally when I was appointed as Chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard, a gesture I have always remembered,” wrote Alexandre Ricard in a post.

“In a competitive business world Ivan remained a profoundly genuine and authentic person.”

Philippe Schaus, Moët Hennessy CEO and former DFS Group Chief Exec, said it was a “privilege” to have known and worked alongside Menezes.

“Ivan was a wonderful partner to Moët Hennessy and to myself, and I will remember how jovial, quick-minded, smiling and supportive he always was.

“A pillar of Diageo since day 1, Ivan transformed the group whilst at its helm over the last 10 years and shaped our industry. His extensive knowledge of the business and his passion for the stories behind some of the world’s most popular brands compelled nothing short of admiration.”

Jessica Spence, Beam Suntory’s President of North America, said: “Ivan was an incredible leader and one of our industry’s best ambassadors. He was also an incredible advocate for women in the spirits industry.”

Industry colleagues have hailed Menezes as an ‘incredible leader’.

Mark Kent, Chief Executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, described him as “a towering figure in Scotch whisky, who not only helped to shape the global success of the industry but laid the foundation for future generations”.

“It is too soon to encapsulate fully the impact he had on the Scotch Whisky industry, that time will come later. But it is as deep and long lasting as the affection in which he was held by those who knew him best,” he continued. 

Laxman Narasimhan, Starbucks CEO, said that Menezes leaves an “incredible legacy”. 

“He loved the company, its brands and its people. He was classy, bold, kind, thoughtful and so downright modest – a true ‘gentle, giant’ of a leader,” he continued. 

Renata Scofield, GSK’s Senior Sustainability Director, described Menezes as “a transformative champion for women and ethnic minorities in business.”

Russell Parsons, Editor in Chief at Marketing Week, said he was “a great marketer that helped build a great marketing organisation”. 

The New York Stock Exchange paid visual tribute to Menezes across its trading floor screens.

Ferrán continued: “Ivan leaves behind many friends and a beloved family, and our thoughts are particularly with his wife, Shibani and his two children, Nikhil and Rohini. On behalf of the Board, Executive Committee and all our employees, we extend our deepest sympathies to them.”

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