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New Angostura CEO’s Focusing on growth, new lines
In the last four months, Laventille-based Angostura—the producer of rums and world-famous bitters—has been wracked by the sending on administrative leave of its chief executive, Robert Wong, “pending an audit into matters touching and concerning his employment duties,” and an internal investigation of its chairman, Rolph Balgobin, over allegations made against him by a female executive.
As well, there have been reports that the publicly listed company’s former executive chairman, Lawrence Duprey, has made recovering control of Angostura the focus of his current ambitions.
Yet, faced with what many executives would perceive to be a poisoned chalice, the company’s new group CEO, Genevieve Jodhan, is undaunted and focused on delivering on the company’s December 2016 business plan.
That plan mandates that Angostura should increase its revenue from about $650 million in 2016 (its full-year results for the year have not been published as yet) to $1 billion in 2021.
To deliver on the mandate, Jodhan will be leading the company into a further diversification from its rum and bitters roots, with the addition of a second Solera alcohol retail shop in San Fernando in May.
The company is also working on a pilot basis on getting involved in the production of chocolate using T&T’s world-famous fine cocoa, paired with alcohol.
“We are working with a strategy consultant now in terms of what we want to be. We definitely want to be in the food and beverage sector,” says Jodhan.
Also driving sales would be the repackaging of the company’s LLB (Lemon, Lime and Bitters) beverage in April and the launch of a new flavour LLB, which will be lower caloried.
“In each product category—rum, bitters, distribution and LLB—we are looking to introduce innovations locally and globally, we are looking to push our premium rums with a little more investment in marketing,” the new CEO said.
As the first female CEO in the company’s 192-year history, Jodhan says she did not look at her appointment from a gender point of view. But, she admits, that for the “hard spirits industry globally, the appointment of a female CEO appears to be a big deal” as it has been dominated by male CEOs.
“I see it as just an opportunity that was presented to me and one that had to have been based on my track record in terms of supply-chain management, international marketing and export and business development,” Jodhan says, referring to roles that she has performed in her nine plus years at the company.
She was first hired by Angostura to streamline its supply chain in November 2007, which was then chaired by Lawrence Duprey, but had three executive directors, Patrick Patel, Gabriel Faria and Michael Carballo.
“I reported to the three of them for my first six months. It was interesting,” she says, with a chuckle.
Jodhan’s move from supply chain to business development came under the stewardship of manufacturing executive Wayne Yip Choy, who ran the company between November 2009 and September 2011.
Yip Choy was fired by former Angostura chairman Gerry Yetming in a dispute over bonus payment. Yip Choy sued for wrongful dismissal, winning his case last July in a judgment by Justice James Aboud, who awarded the litigant $28 million award, which weighed down Angostura’s 2016 financial performance.
Asked how she viewed the prospect of Angostura coming back under the control of the CL Financial empire, Jodhan said: “My view is simply this: I am a steward of a company that has international brands and has been around for 192 years and we want to set the groundwork for us to be around for another 200 years.
“Whoever our shareholder is does not matter because we, as an executive team, are not giving too much thought to that issue. We are working right now to grow the business.
“I do not have any views on who the main shareholder should or should not be.”
She says this focus on growing the business is something that she is pushing in the company’s strategy meetings.
“We know our investors, whoever they might be, would look to the management of the company for a return on their investment and we are trying to deliver that.”
On the issue of CL Financial’s $984 million debt to Angostura, which has been raised by shareholders at the last four annual meetings, Jodhan said: “We, Angostura, met with CL Financial. I gave a presentation at that meeting at which we gave a proposal as to how the debt can be settled. The proposal is being considered but it has to be secondary as CL Financial needs to agree a resolution of the larger issues with the government and then the issue of the $984 million debt to Angostura will be considered.”
She said Angostura’s proposal for the resolution of the CL Financial debt was “favourably received,” and “palatable to them” adding that if the debt is settled, the rum and bitters company will be in a different game in terms of acquisitions.
Another issue raised by shareholders at the annual meeting is whether the company can increase its dividends, by paying out more of its earnings back to the shareholders.
“That would be a question for the directors of the company, but I know from the executive’s point of view, we have factored in the funding of our growth over the next five years.”
The strategic plan calls for growth by retained earnings, with little recourse to debt-financed growth.
Throughout the interview, Jodhan refers to Angostura as a small, independent fish fighting against the much larger players in the spirits world.
She says the industry has gone through a great deal of consolidation.
Asked whether the company she leads will be acquired or if it will be acquiring, Jodhan says it can go either way, depending on the directors and the owners of the company.
She agrees the balance sheet of the company has been transformed in the eight years since the government took control of CL Financial and that what used to be a company that was highly leveraged is now almost debt free with a strong balance sheet.
“We are in a good position,” Jodhan says, “We think we can set the groundwork in the next five years for some really strong growth.”
Whoever our shareholder is does not matter because we, as an executive team,
are not giving too much thought to that issue.
We are working right now to grow the business.