The unexpected death of Pernod Ricard SA chairman Patrick Ricard may speed up his nephew's climb to the top, reinforcing the founding family's grip on the world's second-largest spirits maker.
Patrick Ricard, whose father Paul founded the eponymous maker of the aniseed-flavoured pastis liquor in Marseille in 1932, died on Aug.17 at age 67.
Alexandre Ricard, 40, has long been expected to become chief executive, fulfilling his uncle's wish that the French heirs of the company's founder remain at the helm of a global business that includes Jameson Whisky and Absolut Vodka alongside Ricard and Pernod pastis.
That could now happen as soon as 2015, when incumbent Pierre Pringuet, the first person outside the family to hold that post, is due to retire.
Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Jean-Marc Chow said on Aug. 20 that Alexandre is being groomed to become "the next CEO."
The company declined to comment.
According to French daily Les Echos, which did not cite its sources, Alexandre Ricard could soon become deputy CEO with Mr. Pringuet taking on the additional chairman position.
Mr. Chow suggested Patrick Ricard's sister and board member Daniele, 73, may become chairman.
Alexandre Ricard, whose family is the group's biggest shareholder with a 14 per cent stake, joined in 2003, becoming chairman and CEO of Irish Distillers Group PLC in 2008, before last year being promoted to managing director of its global distribution network, with a seat on its executive board.
Mr. Ricard, a sports and movie enthusiast who graduated from Paris' ESCP Business School and earned an MBA at University of Pennsylvania's elite Wharton school, has built a reputation as a hard worker.
He could have his work cut out for him. The family's decade-long acquisition binge that catapulted Pernod Ricard to second spot behind British market leader Diageo PLC has also saddled the company with €9-billion of debt at end of June.
The company gave no details about Patrick Ricard's death nor discussed plans for his succession, but French media said he suffered a heart attack while on the family-owned island of Bendor, off the French Riviera.
Mr. Ricard, who joined the company in 1967, had been chairman since 1978 and was also CEO until 2008, spurring the group's expansion into international markets, where Pernod Ricard makes 90 per cent of its sales.
Mr. Ricard's company merged in 1975 with rival Pernod to create Pernod Ricard, which had sales of €7.6-billion and global staff of some 18,000 in 2011.
With Mr. Ricard at its helm, Pernod snapped up brands around the globe, including Irish Distillers, home to Jameson whisky in 1988, Seagram Co. Ltd. in 2001 and Allied Domecq PLC, which makes the Mumm and Perrier Jouet champagnes, in 2005.
His last major acquisition was the purchase of Swedish group Vin & Sprit, owner of Absolut Vodka, in 2008 for €5.7-billion.
Pernod makes about 40 per cent of its sales in fast-growing emerging markets.
Patrick Ricard's funeral will be held on Aug. 22 on Embiez, another Mediterranean island the family owns where his father Paul is buried.
Mr. Ricard, a father of three, expressed his wish several years ago that a family member stay at the head of the group: "If within 15 or 20 years, there were no Ricard at the helm of the company, Pernod Ricard would not really be Pernod Ricard," he said.
Pernod, which unveils its annual results on Aug. 30, will hold a board meeting on Aug. 29 to review its accounts. It was unclear at this stage if the board would also discuss Patrick Ricard's successor.