Outgoing Diageo chief executive Paul Walsh will leave behind a global force with an unrivalled brand portfolio, say industry insiders.
The Smirnoff and Guinness owner has announced that Walsh will step down on 1 July but remain with the business for a further year to hand over the reins to Diageo chief operating officer Ivan Menezes.
Analysts and observers praised Walsh for foreseeing the growth in the global spirits market.
Early in his tenure, Walsh tightened the business’s focus on premium drinks, acquiring the Seagrams spirits and wine portfolio, which included Canadian Crown Royal whisky, and selling Burger King, the last of Diageo’s food operations.
In recent years, Diageo has made a raft of international acquisitions, including premium Brazilian cachaca brand Ypioca, leading Chinese spirits group Sichuan Chengdu Quanxing and a controlling stake in India’s United Spirits group. It has reported strong performance in many emerging markets.
“Walsh foresaw the dramatic global growth of spirits at the expense of wine and beer,” said Mintel global drinks analyst Jonny Forsyth. “This may look obvious now, but things looked very different at the beginning of the millennium.”
A senior supermarket drinks buyer described Diageo’s global positioning as “fantastic”, and praised its strong track record in CSR and consumer marketing.
Paul Hemming, partner and head of corporate finance at Zolfo Cooper, compared Walsh to outgoing Man Utd manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
“Walsh’s stewardship is probably the corporate equivalent of Sir Alex, based on length of service, accomplishment and value creation,” he said. “What the company has achieved during Paul Walsh’s tenure is remarkable. It is a truly global leader in its sector.”