The world’s biggest liquor maker, Diageo, has appointed Debra Crew as chief executive. Ms Crew ran Diageo’s business in North America, its largest market. As current CEO Mr Menezes retires after ten years leading the liquor giant, Ms Crew will step up to the CEO role as well as join the board from July 1, 2023.
The company, which makes brands such as Johnnie Walker scotch whisky, Guinness and Baileys, announced that Sir Ivan Menezes would step down on 30 June after 10 years as chief executive. It decided to promote Crew from chief operating officer to the top job.
Diageo employs 28,000 people globally and sells more than 200 brands in more than 180 markets. It is the biggest company by net sales value in scotch and Canadian whisky, vodka, gin, rum, liquors and tequila.
Prior to being appointed chief operating officer in October 2022, Ms Crew was president, Diageo North America and global supply, leading Diageo’s largest market to 14% organic net sales growth in fiscal 2022, following on from 20% organic net sales growth in the prior year.
Ms Crew is the former president and CEO of Reynolds American, Inc., a tobacco industry giant. At Reynolds she drove growth in tobacco consumption and harm before the company was taken over by BAT.
Movendi International reported already in 2019 when the former president and CEO of Reynolds American, a subsidiary of tobacco giant British American Tobacco, joined the board of Diageo, a company known for its unethical business practices.
Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco are big buddies
The case of Ms Crew illustrates how closely linked the alcohol and tobacco industries are. In fact, they have long been intertwined. Big Tobacco used its ill-gotten profits to buy into the alcohol industry and senior executives and board members are on the boards of major alcohol industry players (and vice versa).
Already in 2014, Kristina Sperkova, the President of Movendi International revealed in a blog post the close ties between Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco. Altria, previously Philip Morris, owned major stakes in alcohol giant SABMiller. Together they manufactured death and disease for profits. At the time SABMiller was among the four largest brewers in the world and Altria Group, Inc. owned 26.7% of SABMiller shares – the biggest part of the shares with vast economic and voting interest in one of the world’s biggest alcohol companies. Altria had three seats on the 11-person board of directors.
These companies have long worried that “Big Alcohol” is vulnerable to many of the same criticisms as Big Tobacco. Even in the 1990s, documents linked to the US alcohol industry argued that like tobacco, the alcohol industry was vulnerable to the charge that it markets its products to young people.
And the alcohol industry is using many of the same tactics as Big Tobacco. Ms Crew will make sure of that for Diageo, bringing her Big Tobacco strategies with her to the top leadership position.
Diageo has a long track record of deploying unethical and predatory business practices to drive growth in alcohol consumption and linked alcohol harms, for profit maximization.