Brown-Forman has announced that CEO Paul C. Varga will retire from the company, effective 31 December 2018, to be succeeded by Lawson E. Whiting.
Whiting, a 21-year veteran of the company who currently serves as chief operating officer, will become the tenth executive leader of Brown-Forman since its founding in 1870.
Varga joined the firm 31 years ago and began his CEO tenure in 2003. During his time leading the company, Varga focused Brown-Forman’s business on its premium spirits portfolio and expanded the company’s global presence, and strong growth of its Jack Daniel’s brand.
Brown-Forman chairman George Garvin Brown IV said: “On behalf of our board of directors, the employees, and all Brown-Forman shareholders, I would like to express my gratitude to Paul for leading the extended Brown-Forman community for the last 15 years. Paul entered the leadership ranks at a time when the future of American whiskey was in doubt, even in the United States.
“He will retire having successfully grown the Jack Daniel’s franchise into one of the most valuable spirits trademarks in the world. His transformation of our portfolio, coupled with his multi-year execution of balanced shareholder-friendly capital deployment, marks his tenure as arguably the most successful CEO in our industry’s modern era.”
Varga said: “It has been a privilege to serve Brown-Forman over the last three decades. In determining the best time to implement the final piece of this succession plan, I naturally considered the readiness of the company to navigate a leadership transition such as this, and now is the right time. Also, having worked with Lawson over the last two decades, I believe, and the board has concluded, that he is ideally suited and very well prepared to succeed as Brown-Forman’s next CEO.”
Whiting, 49, began his career with the company in corporate development and investor relations. Since then he has held several leadership positions, taking on assignments in finance, marketing and commercial functions in the US and Europe.
Lawson Whiting currently serves as Brown-Forman chief operating officer and will become CEO in 2019.
Prior to his current role, Whiting served as EVP and chief brands and strategy officer (2015 to 2017), during which time he was responsible for reshaping Brown-Forman’s portfolio, including the acquisition of the BenRiach company in Scotland, the launch of Slane Irish Whiskey, and the investments in Woodford Reserve and Old Forester bourbon brands.
Previously he was SVP and chief brands officer (2013 to 2015) and SVP and managing director for Western Europe (2011 to 2013). Whiting earned a BA from Miami University and an MBA from The University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business.
Commenting on Whiting’s appointment, Brown said: “We believe that in Lawson we have another Brown-Forman leader with the strength of character and the intellectual rigor that is uniquely well suited to lead our independent culture and our teams in balanced long-term thinking and global brand building. He is the right leader to help Brown-Forman seize the enormous global opportunities that lie ahead of us for many years to come.”
Whiting added: “I am honoured and excited to become Brown-Forman’s next CEO. I am taking on this responsibility at a time when the company is performing very well thanks to Paul, my colleagues across the company, and the support of the Brown family and the board of directors.
“We will continue to focus on the premium American whiskey category and further strengthen our super-premium brand portfolio, as well as develop our people around the world. I look forward to leading Brown-Forman into its next generation of growth.”
Brown-Forman – which owns brands such as Jack Daniel’s, Canadian Mist and Finlandia – owns products sold in more than 165 countries and employees nearly 4,700 people.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019