In the 1960s, Patrick Ricard used to join his father on visits to factories in southern France, where their family company produced pastis, a potent anisette liqueur that is a staple in French bars. "He knew every worker's name," says Ricard of his father, who died in 1997. Don't expect Ricard, 60, to match that feat. Since he took the helm of Pernod Ricard in 1978, the company has grown into a $4.6 billion-a-year business with operations in 80 countries, 12,250 employees, and a stable of brands ranging from Chivas Regal and Martell cognac to Jacob's Creek Australian wine.
Thanks to Ricard's dealmaking, the company is likely to get even bigger soon. In April, Pernod Ricard teamed up with Fortune Brands Inc. (FO ) in the U.S. to launch a $14 billion bid for British drinks company Allied Domecq PLC (AED ). The acquisition, which could be sealed in June, would bump Pernod Ricard up from No. 3 to No. 2 in the global spirits business, behind Britain's Diageo PLC (DEO ), while adding such star brands as Beefeater gin and Stolichnaya vodka to its liquor cupboard. Although Allied Domecq has rival suitors, most analysts expect Ricard to prevail.
Affable and down-to-earth, with a fondness for rum and cigars, Ricard has proven himself a shrewd shopper. Before he became chief executive, Pernod Ricard was virtually unknown outside France. To expand the company's reach, Ricard began acquiring smallish foreign brands, from U.S. bourbon to Irish whisky. Gradually he moved on to bigger deals, the largest in 2001, when Pernod Ricard doubled its size by swallowing 38% of the former Seagram's drinks business.
Ricard also has delivered strong internal growth over the years, including a 7% first-quarter sales rise this year to $975 million. He wins plaudits from industry watchers for a flexible management style that lets local execs make key marketing decisions. That's an extension of the company's heritage, he says: "In a family, there is trust and respect."
While his corporate family has grown exponentially, none of Ricard's three children has joined the company, making it likely that the reins will pass to a nonfamily exec when he retires, as planned, in 2008. Meanwhile, if the Allied Domecq deal happens, this energetic empire builder will have plenty to keep him busy for the next three years.
By Carol Matlack