Remy Cointreau looked ready to go down the drain--until Dominique Heriard Dubreuil took over as chairman in 1998, replacing her father. The venerable French drinks company was heavily in debt and losing $100 million a year as the Asian crisis sank sales of its Remy Martin cognacs. Heriard Dubreuil, who had pursued a career in public relations while her brothers helped run the family business, seemed an unlikely candidate to revive it.
But Heriard Dubreuil has put the sparkle back into Remy Cointreau, turning the company into a lesson in how Europe's family-run businesses can remake themselves. She sold off marginal assets such as a Bordeaux wine-trading company, while beefing up marketing of brands such as Remy Martin, Cointreau liqueur, and Piper-Heidsieck Champagne. She whipped the company's distribution network into shape, transforming it into a profitable joint venture with Scotland's Highland Distillers and Jim Beam Brands of the U.S. And she acquired Bols Royal Distilleries of the Netherlands to reduce Remy Cointreau's reliance on cognac. Profits last year soared 34%, to $141 million, on sales of $755 million.
Heriard Dubreuil, 54, says her 20 years advising corporate clients at companies such as Hill & Knowlton before joining the cognac division of the family business in 1988 helped her decide on a plan of action for Remy Cointreau. The company's shares, 65% owned by the Heriard Dubreuil and Cointreau families, have doubled in the past two years. Still, she says, "I have never considered myself having ownership of this company. I'm here to create value and maximize it." That's something to raise a glass over.