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Liquid asset

Published on Saturday, 19 Jul 2014
Pierre Coppéré
Photo: Gary Mak

Pierre Coppéré, chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard Asia, keeps business moving fluidly.

Pierre Coppéré likes to define his lifelong career in the beverage industry in terms of liquids. A quick glance at his background and career history explains why that makes sense. Growing up in Lyon, in France’s Burgundy wine region, he spent his childhood surrounded by wine. Later, as a business student specialising in marketing at the ESCP Europe business school in Paris, he did an internship with French food and beverage company Danone, and was assigned to work at one of its water affiliates, Evian. After graduating, he decided he wanted to pursued an international career and in 1977 moved to the US after joining Sopexa, a French partly state-owned entity whose mission is to promote French food and wines abroad.

He spent three months in Texas, and also worked in Austin, Chicago and New York during his one-year stay in the country. When he returned to France after a year to do his obligatory military service, a different world awaited him with the Chasseurs Alpins – or “alpine hunters” – an elite infantry brigade that trains in the mountains. Once out of the army, he compiled a short list of the companies he wanted to work for and sent them his résumé. His stint in the Alps had forged a lifelong love of the mountains and for a time he seriously considered a career in the skiing industry.

“I sent my résumé to a very, very limited number of companies, all having international business either in wine and spirits or skiing,” he recalls. Wine and spirits won out in the end, when he was offered a job with Pernod Ricard, the company where he spend the rest of his career. “It’s [been] a working life spent in liquid,” he says. “From water to wine, and then to wine and spirits. I celebrated 35 years with Pernod Ricard on 15 July this year.”

When he joined the company in 1979, Pernod Ricard was focused on extending its global reach. Coppéré moved from marketing to become area export manager in charge of exports for several countries. The company was expanding, in size and breadth, and opportunities for a versatile and determined graduate were abundant. “We managed to acquire businesses in different countries,” he explains. “That’s how our business changed from export to international, and that sort of changed the spectrum.”

Coppéré worked in different departments and countries, becoming managing director of Pernod Ricard Southeast Asia in 1996, and moving back to Europe a year later to become managing director for Austria and South Central Europe, and later the Netherlands. He became chairman and CEO of Pernod SA in 2002, and moved back to Asia in 2009 to take up his current role.

Along the way, he has benefited from mentoring within the company. “I was lucky enough to come to work with Pierre Pringuet, the [now] CEO of Pernod Ricard, and it’s fair to say we got along very well,” he says. “We had a good understanding of the business. I worked for him, reporting directly to him for many years. To a certain extent, that accelerated my career within Pernod Ricard.”

From the start, Coppéré was fully committed to Pernod Ricard and did not feel the need to explore possible careers in other firms or industries. It was not a case of making a conscious decision to stay with one company and work his way to the top – if anything, it was the other way round, he explains.

“I never thought I wouldn’t stay with Pernod Ricard,” he says. “I did find in Pernod Ricard everything that kept me excited for all those years. That’s the reason why I’m still here. I never got bored, never.”

In his current position, Coppéré’s first responsibility is for the company’s bottom and top lines in Asia – a demanding task, given that the region’s contribution to the company has grown tenfold in the past 10 years. He explains that his role has expanded from a narrower management style based on a certain expertise, to a more holistic position that focuses on people management. In this capacity, he says his primary aim is to inspire.

“[The bottom line] is a key driver of Pernod Ricard’s growth, but this is achieved via and with the team, and therefore managing the team, managing the people is absolutely key,” he says. “I love it. It’s very rewarding.”

One of the ways that staff are engaged is by taking part in the company’s efforts to combat underage drinking and other forms of irresponsible alcohol consumption, which forms the centrepiece of Pernod Ricard’s CSR efforts. “What we’ve agreed as an industry is to fight it,” Coppéré says.

The annual Pernod Ricard Responsib’All Day, for example, sees the company’s 19,000 employees around the world focus for one day on encouraging responsible drinking. This includes highlighting Pernod Ricard’s responsible-drinking initiatives, such as the launch of an app earlier this year that helps users calculate how many units of alcohol they have consumed. 

With responsibility for a region that extends from the Gulf to Japan, Coppéré spends much of his time travelling to meet his core teams in different countries. In a typical year, he spends more than 200 days out of Hong Kong. “Fortunately, I like travelling, otherwise that would be an issue with my current job,” he says. During his free time, he takes advantage of being based in Hong Kong and has visited most countries in Asia during the past five years.

The father of a son and three daughters – who he says help to keep him and his thinking young – Coppéré has been married for 33 years and has always kept his work and home life separate. “I know some people come back home and have a need to tell what they’ve done during the day. I’ve never, ever done that,” he says.

He also likes to ski, scuba dive and read. “Usually I can do three things at the same time: I can read a book while listening to music – pop-rock music, classical or opera – and sip a glass of Ricard.”



Pierre Coppéré explains what he thinks are four keys to being a good leader:

Feel the future  “Inspiring means being visionary, and leading by example.”
Listen to others  “It’s important to have your own convictions, but you have to listen to what other people have to say, and take that into account moving forward.”
Be courageous  “Challenge the status quo. Take risks.”
Keep things fresh  “It’s easy to fall into routine things, so changing the status quo, even towards yourself – that is important.”

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