Spirits giant Diageo names first-ever female CEO, replacing incumbent Sir Ivan Menezes

Diageo – the world’s biggest spirits-producer and Scotland's biggest whisky-producer – has appointed its first female chief executive after announcing the retirement of incumbent Sir Ivan Menezes after a decade in the top job.
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The FTSE 100-listed drinks giant, whose brands include Johnnie Walker, Talisker, Smirnoff and Guinness, has revealed that Debra Crew will step up from her current position as chief operating officer and lead the firm from July 1. The former US Army officer has also held senior positions at tobacco company Reynolds American and PepsiCo.

She is set to join Diageo's board when she takes on the top role and will work alongside chief financial officer Lavanya Chandrashekar. It comes after Diageo – which in Scotland has about 3,500 staff, almost 30 malt distilleries, and the Johnnie Walker Princes Street visitor attraction in Edinburgh, for example – was named the top company for female representation at board level in the FTSE Women Leaders Review in February.

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Ms Crew welcomed her appointment, saying it is an “incredible privilege to be leading Diageo through the next phase of its development” while her predecessor “leaves Diageo in a very strong position for future growth and I look forward to working with our teams around the world to capture the opportunities ahead”.

Debra Crew will step up from her current position as chief operating officer and lead the firm from July 1. Picture: contributed.Debra Crew will step up from her current position as chief operating officer and lead the firm from July 1. Picture: contributed.
Debra Crew will step up from her current position as chief operating officer and lead the firm from July 1. Picture: contributed.

Sir Ivan, who took home a pay packet of more than £7.8 million in the year to June 2022 and knighted for services to business and to equality in the King's 2023 New Year Honours list, joined Diageo when it formed in 1997 and has spent more than 25 years in senior positions. The firm said he has been at the helm of the group during a period of significant growth, with it now selling more than 200 brands – including in excess of 100 individual Scotch brands alone – in 180 markets.

Ambitions

He said it has been an “enormous honour" leading Diageo over the past decade, adding: “I am confident that under Debra’s leadership, and with our extraordinary portfolio of brands and culture, Diageo will go on to deliver our long-term performance ambition.”

Diageo chairman Javier Ferran said that under Sir Ivan’s leadership, the group has “consistently delivered a truly impressive performance”, and he praised the naming of a leader “of Debra's calibre” as CEO. "I have no doubt that Diageo is in the right hands for the next phase of its growth."

Diageo says Sir Ivan Menezes leaves Diageo 'extremely well positioned for future growth'. Picture: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images.Diageo says Sir Ivan Menezes leaves Diageo 'extremely well positioned for future growth'. Picture: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images.
Diageo says Sir Ivan Menezes leaves Diageo 'extremely well positioned for future growth'. Picture: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images.
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Derren Nathan, head of equity research at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “A change at the top is always a leap into the unknown, although slightly less so when the incumbent is already part of the team. Diageo is the sixth-largest company on the FTSE 100, and the new captain is unlikely to be given much of a honeymoon period by shareholders.

"Sir Ivan will be a tough act to follow… He’s left the company in good shape and it’s continuing to thrive despite the challenging economic environment. Growth is expected to slow in the short-term however, and an earnings multiple of about 20x means Debra Crew will be under extra pressure to perform.”

Diageo in January said its interim sales grew 9.4 per cent on an organic year-on-year basis to £9.4 billion, while its organic operating profit grew by 9.7 per cent to £3.2bn, surpassing analysts’ expectations.

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