The long retirement awaiting Sir Ivan Menezes, 63, after a distinguished and hugely successful career at Diageo has been cruelly taken away. His untimely death, after a short illness, occurred 23 days before he was due to stand down. But no-one can be in doubt about his contribution to the drinks giant during his decade in the role.

It was widely felt that Sir Paul Walsh would be a difficult act to follow when he handed over the reins to Menezes in July 2013 after a 13-year-stint as CEO in which the former Guinness plc had been transformed.

But after initially struggling in the role, in part due to a historically large portfolio of underperforming global brands, the former COO blossomed as a leader and took Diageo to new levels.

As the leader of a UK plc Diageo is an especially important business, accounting for £1 in every £10 of the UK’s food and drink exports. But Diageo is also a global goliath, and it was getting the balance right between strong local and strong national that was key to his tenure, as when, for example, he sold 40 mainstream Indian brands in the country of his birth to Inbrew Holdings in 2022.

But it’s his taste for acquiring celebrity booze brands for which Menezes will perhaps best be remembered. And they demonstrated his confidence amply. The $1bn (£802m) price tag paid out for the George Clooney-backed Casamigos tequila brand in 2017 raised more than a few eyebrows. But like the buyout of Ryan Reynolds’ Aviation American Gin for £466m in 2020, it paid off.

The legacy Menezes leaves behind is one of tangible overperformance for investors. Shareholders reaped a generous 127% return through his radical decisions, compared to the wider FTSE100’s 17%.

Diageo also embraced sustainability wholeheartedly under Menezes, becoming one of the top 1% of companies globally to achieve a ‘Double A’ rating for water security and climate change, while his strong support for diversity & inclusion, in which Diageo ranked number one in the UK, and number two globally in Equileap’s 2023 Gender Equality Report was cited alongside his business contribution as a reason for Sir Ivan’s knighthood in the King’s New Year’s Honours earlier this year.

Born in Pune, India, in 1959, Menezes studied at St Stephen’s College in Delhi and then the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. He held dual UK and US citizenship during his tenure as CEO and was married to Shibani, with two children, Nikhil and Rohini.

Although his career didn’t begin at Diageo, having previously worked in marketing and strategy roles at the likes of Nestlé and Whirlpool, the bulk of it was served there. It began on Diageo’s 1997 formation through the merger of Guinness (where he was strategy director) and Grand Metropolitan.

”Ivan played a critical role – as integration director – when the merger of Guinness and Grand Metropolitan created Diageo 25 years ago,” Walsh said in tribute. “He then led our highly successful North American business for a decade. As CEO from 2014, he brought the sharpest focus on the needs of the consumer and shopper. He was completely committed to building a diverse global business. He is a massive loss to us all.”

Chairman Javier Ferrán said Menezes created an extraordinary legacy, which he built through serving in many management roles, as well as five senior roles including North America president and Asia Pacific chairman.

The first inkling of a potential health issue emerged on Monday (5 June) when it was announced Debra Crew, the incoming CEO, would start with immediate effect after Menezes was hospitalised by an apparent stomach ulcer. Reports have since suggested other health conditions caused complications during surgery, following which he died.

But as many of the followers Menezes has garnered during his career have voiced in tribute, his legacy will stretch long into the future.