Frantz Hotton, managing director of Pernod Ricard Hong Kong and Macau, has spent 20 years shaking up the drinks business
For someone who works in the upper echelons of the drinks industry, there would seem to be few better places in the world to have been born than the Champagne region of France. However, Frantz Hotton, managing director of Pernod Ricard Hong Kong and Macau, grew up in an area of the region where the connection with its most celebrated product was in name only.
“There is no wine production in that part of Champagne, just sugar beet and cereals,” he explains. Somewhere inside, though, a seed must have been sown.
After completing his baccalaureate, Hotton studied marketing at the famous ESCP Europe business school in Paris. At the time, finance was at the peak of its popularity, but he was more interested in dealing with “concrete” things and saw the possibility of an enjoyable career in sales and marketing.
Hotton’s first two jobs were with detergent and cosmetics companies. He spent just under a year with Colgate followed by over seven years with Henkel. He found the businesses to have very different mindsets.
“One was already a big American corporation and the other, at that time, a mostly European family-owned company in the position of a challenger,” he notes.
Gaining experience all the time, he worked his way up from assistant brand manager, to brand manager, to senior brand manager, to marketing manager.
After learning in some of the “temples” of marketing – such as dealing with the housewives target group – he decided it was time to discover, as he puts it, “real life”.
“I had a meeting with a senior manager who didn’t understand why I was leaving. ‘You know you’ll become a marketing director and work in Dusseldorf,’ he said. I replied, ‘Yes, at Henkel I know what would come next – the story is already written for me. But it is not written by me. That’s why I’m leaving.’”
Hotton wanted to work for a company where individuals could have a greater impact. “I realised there were two kinds of organisation. In one, the focus is on finding and developing people so they can all act the same. In the other, things might appear a little messier, but each individual brings additional value and personal style to the company.”
So, in 1995, Hotton joined the Pernod Ricard Group as a marketing manager. He switched from marketing to become Pernod’s national on-trade sales director in 2000, before holding several other senior sales positions.
In 2011, he became international commercial and brand development director of Martell Mumm Perrier-Jouët. He took up his current position in Hong Kong in July 2014.
He explains that different approaches are required when leading and motivating sales and marketing teams. “In marketing, people are usually driven by professional ambition – the drivers are pretty straightforward and more long term. But in sales, while some people want to one day become sales directors, others just want to remain a rep and enjoy their relationships with their customers.
“Keeping the members of a sales team motivated and finding different drivers for performance is more complex. The day-to-day management is quite challenging, in terms of finding a balance between being demanding and caring.”
He says that marketing wines and spirits can be much more interesting, complex and sophisticated than other segments. “When it comes to alcohol, there is only consumer desire, no real needs. This makes it much more difficult, because what you then have to offer is a story. Success comes when the product credentials fit the story behind and beyond them. You have to convince your key customers and key opinion leaders, and this is a long process.”
Word of mouth spread through an early adopter’s network, he says, can lead to the product becoming fashionable and provides the platform on which to build your brand. This can then be replicated and spread among the world’s trendiest places until you reach the general public and become a “classic”.
“You need to build the right network and develop a ‘micro eco-system’ of people, brands, occasions, and sometimes rituals and culture,” he says. “If you choose the wrong network, or the wrong occasion, it will be a failure.”
When Hotton joined Pernod Ricard, the group had just bought the Cuban rum Havana Club. At the time, the big success in the rum category was Bacardi, built on the back of the simple-to-make Bacardi and coke drink. On the other hand, the classic cocktail using Cuban rum – the mojito – was thought to be a complicated, expensive cocktail that was difficult to replicate at home.
“Many industry gatekeepers were prophesising failure unless we promoted an easier mix like our main competitor. We decided to stick to brand truth and Cuban roots, building our brand on mojito. We started teaching bartenders in 10 bars in the trendiest places in Paris. We took them to Cuba and introduced them to Cuban culture. Then, slowly, we extended to 20, 30 bars and then new cities. Now, the mojito is the most popular cocktail in the world. This started 20 years ago.”
Hotton explains you cannot quickly build a drinks brand. “Ten years is the minimum. Our brands have been built for decades and centuries: Ricard started in 1932, Pernod in 1805 and this year is the 300th anniversary of the Martell Cognac.”
Frantz Hotton’s recommended blend of business skills
Thirst “You won’t make any significant progress in your career unless you work hard and are committed to your work, your staff and your company.”
Free-flowing “Be positive, optimistic, curious and open to learn every day and from everyone. Be rooted, but always future-minded.”
Spirit “I’ve never met anyone who’s achieved anything in business without caring about what they’re doing. You need to love what you’re doing and enjoy working with your colleagues.”
Shooter “Success comes from good decisions, good decisions come from experience, and experience, sometimes, comes from bad decisions.”
Highball “See yourself in a top position, practice influential power, consider yourself as a brand and create desire in your working environment.”
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Raising the bar.