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Diageo appoints its first female chief executive

Some two months before the recent death of Sir Ivan Menezes, the world’s biggest spirits maker, Diageo, appointed Debra Crew as his successor, one of few women to lead a FTSE 100 company.

The company, which makes well-known brands including Johnnie Walker scotch whisky, Guinness and Baileys, announced that Sir Ivan Menezes would step down on 30 June after 10 years as chief executive, promoting Crew from chief operating officer to the top job, effective from 1 July. She has subsequently taken the reins.

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.

Before being appointed chief operating officer in October 2022, Crew ran Diageo’s business in North America, its largest market. She joined the company in 2019 and previously headed the tobacco firm Reynolds American until it was acquired by BAT. Before that, she spent five years at PepsiCo and worked at Kraft Foods, Nestlé and Mars.

Only eight of the UK’s top 100 listed companies have a female chief executive. They are Dame Alison Rose at NatWest, Amanda Blanc at Aviva, Dame Emma Walmsley at GSK, Jette Nygaard-Andersen at Entain, Liv Garfield at Severn Trent, Jennie Daly at Taylor Wimpey, Margherita Della Valle at Vodafone – who is interim chief executive – and Milena Mondini de Focatiis at Admiral.

Also joining the ranks of FTSE 100 executives, Louise Beardmore is about to take the helm at United Utilities, the UK’s largest listed water company.

Fiona Hathorn, chief executive and co-founder of the campaign group Women on Boards UK, said: “It is terrific to see women who have international experience, in a range of different companies and industries, getting to the top. For the third year in a row, Diageo has been named as the top company for female representation at board level within the FTSE women leaders review, with 63.6%.

“However, the bigger picture is as desolate as ever. Approximately 96% of CEOs in the FTSE-350 are men, which needs to be urgently addressed. Our research shows that when women become CEOs it is more likely that there will be gender balance in executive teams overall. I congratulate Diageo and to other companies I say, catch up – and quickly.”

Derren Nathan, the 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. Diageo now sells over 200 drinks brands across 180 markets, and is a category leader in many of its spirits categories.”

Source: The Guardian

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