Guinness owner Diageo hunts new chairman amid sales slowdown

The FTSE 100 drinks giant Diageo has kicked off the search for a new chairman as it grapples with a sharp slowdown in sales in key growth markets.

Sky News has learnt that Diageo, one of the world's biggest alcoholic beverage companies, is working with Russell Reynolds Associates, the search firm, to identify a successor to Javier Ferran.

Mr Ferran, who also chairs British Airways' parent company, International Consolidated Airlines Group, has chaired the Guinness-to-Johnnie Walker maker since 2017.

His tenure was renewed last year for a further three-year term which expires in October 2025, although a source close to the process said it was conceivable that he could step down a few months either side of that date depending upon the progress of the search.

The appointment of headhunters kickstarts a race to fill one of the most prestigious jobs in British business.

Diageo, which has a market capitalisation of nearly £65bn, has experienced a torrid few months in the wake of a profit warning in November which blamed weak sales of Scotch whisky in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Those markets collectively account for roughly a quarter of Diageo's global whisky sales, with that category in turn representing about 25% of the group's overall revenues.

This week, the company said a "perfect storm" of overstocking and slowing demand had combined to depress profits.

The hunt for Mr Ferran's successor is made more delicate by the fact that Diageo has a relatively new chief executive at the helm.

Debra Crew, who only took over in June following the untimely death of predecessor Sir Ivan Menezes, pledged to get the business performing again, declaring herself "restless" to improve its fortunes.

There is no suggestion at this stage that investors are unhappy with the company's leadership, although Ms Crew will be under pressure to demonstrate that she has exerted a grip on its problems during the course of this year.

Diageo did announce alongside its interim figures this week that it was increasing the dividend in line with its progressive payout policy.

It said it anticipated delivering an improvement in organic net sales and operating profit growth during the second half of the financial year.

Diageo's portfolio includes some of the world's best-known drinks brands, including Smirnoff vodka, the cream liqueur Baileys and gin brand Tanqueray.

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It was unclear on Friday whether any of Diageo's existing board members might be in the frame to succeed Mr Ferran.

Its non-executive directors include Sir John Manzoni, the former chief executive of the Civil Service, and Alan Stewart, the former Tesco finance chief.

Susan Kilsby, the former Shire chair, is also on the board.

Earlier this month, it settled a long-running dispute with the former rapper Diddy over their joint tequila venture, in the process terminating their business relationship.

Diageo's shares have fallen by over 15% in the last 12 months.

The company declined to comment.