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The founding family of Pernod Ricard is to take back executive control of the French distiller when its current chief executive, Pierre Pringuet, retires in 2015.
The Paris-based group announced on Thursday that Alexandre Ricard, 40, has been appointed chief operating officer and deputy chief executive. He will replace Mr Pringuet, the only non-family member to have held the chief executive role, when he reaches the company’s mandatory retirement age of 65 in January 2015.
Mr Ricard, nephew of Patrick Ricard – the group chairman who died suddenly two weeks ago after leading the company for three decades – will represent the third generation of the family to head the company.
The company was founded in Marseille by his grandfather Paul, who invented his eponymous pastis drink in the 1930s.
Patrick Ricard’s sister, Daniele Ricard has been appointed chairman but will step down in favour of Alexandre in 2015, when he is expected to become executive chairman. The Ricard family owns 14 per cent of the company.
Alexandre Ricard said the family “assured the group’s independence” and was very united following the death of Patrick Ricard. He was speaking as the board changes were announced and the group reported its fastest rate of growth in annual sales and profits since the recession in 2007-08.
Net profits rose 9 per cent to €1.2bn in the year to end of June, while sales increased 8 per cent to €8.2bn. Profit from recurring operations amounted to €2.1bn – 9 per cent up on the previous year and above the group’s target of “close to” 8 per cent.
The growth was driven by the group’s top 14 brands, which include Absolut vodka, Chivas Regal whisky and Martell cognac, which all performed well in Asian markets, where group profit from recurring operations increased 21 per cent against a 4 per cent increase in both the Americas and Europe and a 3 per cent drop in France.
Net debt as a proportion of earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation fell to 3.8 times, close to the level of 3.6 times before the 2008 acquisition of Vin & Sprit, maker of Absolut vodka, which pushed the ratio up to 6.2 times.
“Debt is no longer a problem”, said Mr Pringuet, adding that the company could afford to target acquisitions to bolster its position in the US and emerging markets.