Ex-Bacardi DACH & Nordics chief executive Mark de Witte is the CEO of De Kuyper
Source: The spirits business
It’s been a period of significant change for De Kuyper Royal Distillers. The family-owned Dutch liqueurs firm, with a history stretching back to 1695, has undergone a rebrand and unveiled a new distillery in the last 24 months alone, plus it recently, launched the Rutte white spirits brand.
Then, in July 2015, the pace of change quickened even further, when ex-Bacardi DACH & Nordics chief executive Mark de Witte took up the role of CEO.
The contrast between the two businesses is sharp, and the move from the world’s largest family-owned company to a smaller entity could have been a bumpy one. But it’s a change de Witte appears to be relishing.
Fresh off a plane from Bar Convent Berlin (he rates the bar scene in the city as fast catching up with that of London and New York), de Witte is animated, clearly passionate about the drinks trade and energized, despite the rigor of an undoubtedly hectic few days in his former stomping ground.
“It was fantastic,” he evaluates, clearly excited about his time at the event. “A lot of trends are really starting at BCB [in Berlin]. I do think there is a broader trend for real authenticity, craftsmanship… and the more classical cocktails are coming back.”
It’s this eagerness for the industry that shines through when we talk, and surely also smoothed the transition from Bacardi to De Kuyper. Both are family-owned, but, as de Witte notes, the difference in scale means that the familial values in the latter really come across strongly.
“In the case of De Kuyper family values are very, very clear – it’s ingrained in the company. The board is chaired by a non-family member – the family is in that respect at arm’s length and really trust the non- family management to run the business.”
But two family members do have a hands-on presence: Marc De Kuyper runs the US affiliate, while Remy De Kuyper heads up production.
After those crucial first 100 days “in office”, any new leader will be keen to set out their priorities. And de Witte’s primary approach clearly reflected those family values.
“I’ve had breakfast and lunch sessions with all employees. Literally all of them,” he explains. “To understand what gets them out of bed, to understand what they like about the company what they don’t like about the company, their own role.”
It’s a surprising strategy in the fast-paced business world. Yet de Witte explains meeting as many employees as possible has been an essential early doors strategy throughout his career. It was only after hearing from those “on the ground” that he started to evaluate the state of the business with the executive team.
De Witte is frank: discussions have already seen processes “restructured” and new ways of working rolled out. The bigger picture, however, is the development of “a new strategic roadmap for the next five to 10 years”. While plans were still to be fully finalized, he was surprisingly open about his vision for the de Kuyper’s future.
“We want to be a premium liqueur and premium spirits company, the cocktail leader in the on- and off-trade, and we want to own the cocktail,” he states, a phrase he often repeats.
The strategy has two arms: liqueurs will retain their “very important” positioning and will be strengthened, and the firm will venture further into the premium base spirit territory than before.
“You need premium base spirits to be able to deliver all the ingredients to own the cocktail. From a portfolio perspective [that’s] where we want to be.”