Davidoff president and CEO Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard shares his luxury journey
Over the past 35 years, Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard has worked for a series of big-name luxury brands in markets around the world. But during that time, his career has also traced a full circle of sorts, bringing him back, since 2011, to the type of business where he first began – albeit in markedly different circumstances.
Now president and chief executive of Swiss-based Oettinger Davidoff Group, Hoejsgaard heads one of the world’s top manufacturers and distributors of tobacco products, with operations stretching from tobacco growers in Central America to sales and promotion initiatives in fast-growing markets such as mainland China.
His corporate responsibilities include oversight of the privately held group’s 3,600-odd employees, boardroom strategies and the bottom line. But, along with that, there is also the role of public lobbyist, ready to speak on behalf of the industry and, whenever possible, draw a distinction between cigars as an occasional luxury and smoking cigarettes as a daily habit.
The emphasis, audience and statistics may have changed, but some of the main points and essential themes still remind Hoejsgaard of his first full-time job. That’s because he started out as one of the third generation to go into the family-run tobacco distribution business based in Esbjerg, Denmark, after studying political science at the University of Copenhagen.
“There were two traits in the family – farmers and traders – and, for me, it was natural to go into the business,” says Hoejsgaard, who worked his way up on the sales and purchasing side for six years from 1980.
“But with the high taxes, I thought the future was not ‘everlasting’ and, therefore, recommended that my parents divest. However, I had always liked being in a family-oriented industry and had come to think of cigars as handmade luxury products derived from nature, very similar in some ways to chocolate, coffee or wine.”
With the business sold, he was, at age 27, obliged to start again. Buoyed by weekend and evening courses at Southern Denmark Business School, which confirmed an interest in the marketing of brands and brand equity, he replied to an ad placed by drinks multinational Seagram’s, which was looking to expand in Europe.
The basic requirements were clear: applicants had to be at least 40 and have a minimum of 15 years’ experience in wines and spirits. Regardless of that, Hoejsgaard managed to land an interview and, knowing nothing about the trade and unable to speak Italian, somehow talked his way into a job in Rome.
“To take important steps in your career, someone has to believe in you – and that is what happened,” he says. “It wasn’t planned – it can’t be – but I was young, independent, and given the chance to get on the ‘world scene’ in an international office.
“Spirits is a very sociable business, and the company was very entrepreneurial. Through a mix of skills and luck, I got noticed, and that [opened the door] to working for very different companies in different cultures because I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
Moving to Hong Kong in 1989 and then Thailand two years later, he gained both country management and regional experience with Seagram’s. He was later hired by LVMH in 1993 to handle their Guerlain beauty and perfumes brand back in Hong Kong.
Ambition prompted the switch, coupled with the feeling that it was simply time for change. In due course, it also allowed Hoejsgaard to prove that a good grounding in the principles of brand management really does provide transferable skills which can be adapted to different sectors.
Subsequently, he was sought for ever more senior roles at beauty products manufacturer Coty in Paris, jeweller Georg Jensen in Copenhagen, and the Timex Group as US-based president and chairman of the publicly listed entity in India.
The appeal of each role was being able to present a vision, define the framework, set new targets – and keep learning along the way.
“Looking back, there were probably some instances where I was too slow to make changes that had to be made,” he says, putting that down to the Scandinavian heritage of wanting to find consensus and give people an extra chance.
“Overall, though, I like to think of myself as an active manager who offers freedom within the framework, [so long as] the results come through as you promised,” he adds.
At present, the biggest challenges relate to working in a highly regulated sector and for a company at the intersection of a popular industry – luxury goods – and one of the most notorious, tobacco.
“Every regulation is from a ‘cigarette’ point of view, so it is an uphill battle,” Hoejsgaard says. “I strongly believe the cigar business is very different. It is about the ‘ceremony’, spending 45 minutes with friends, not inhaling, maybe having a glass of Bordeaux. But getting that message across to political people can be difficult.”
Married with two adult children, Hoejsgaard’s spare-time interests centre on modern art, interior design, tennis, wine and cooking.
“I’ve taken cookery classes and like to do recipes from Provence or something Italian,” he says. “With a global CEO’s job, there is not much time left over, but 18 months ago, I also joined the board of a non-profit organisation in New York. It helps talented artists with few means to work on their art, and if not ‘make it’, at least get fulfilment. I enjoy that very much.”
LIGHTING UP LUXURY
Hoejsgaard’s hints on creating a top team.
Groom your best “In any senior role, there is no success without a successor. Be comfortable with the team you have put in place and have someone who can move up when necessary.”
Let teams lead “There is the simple matter of trust – once we define where we are going, it is essential to trust the team to run with the ball.”
Know your assets “In our business, we have to rely on people and the equity of the brand, and it is important not to forget that.”
Inspire and engage “You must be passionate about what you do and capable of building that same passion in the people who join you.”
Seek diverse talent “When I first joined the company, I was the first non-Swiss in the management team; there are now seven nationalities. It pays to globalise because that can only make an organisation stronger.”
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Premium proclivities.