Bacardi-Martini Australia CEO Mauricio Vergara’s first year in Australia has been a dramatic one, marked by bushfires and COVID-19, but it hasn’t stopped him falling in love with the country.
“It’s been a bit over a year since we arrived to Australia,” he said. “My family and I are enjoying it very much. My kids love sports and in particular tennis, so they are loving the outdoor culture.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to see the country as much as we would like due to the challenges we have been all facing over the last year, starting with the bushfires and now with COVID-19, but at the same time feel really blessed to have had the opportunity to support the communities in which Bacardi operates through these tough year.”
Vergara has lived in seven countries throughout his career. He joined Bacardi in 2013 as Vice President of Sales and Marketing Latin America after holding a variety of global and regional marketing roles at Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, SAB Miller and Brown-Forman.
“It’s been extremely enriching, all those moves, because it expands your mind and really makes you understand that there are so many ways of looking at the world and the same problem,” he said.
“I think one of the most enriching parts has been to experience the diversity of thought that people bring. I think my biggest learning is always to be in the mindset that you are the one who has to adapt, not the other way around.
“I take the time to understand the nuances of the culture, either the culture of the company or the culture of the country because on the surface we are all very similar but when you start digging deeper into the way the world works you’re going to learn a lot.”
What Vergara has learned in his current role is that the culture in Australia is really about enjoying life. It’s something he has noted in both his professional and personal interactions.
He has found everyone to be friendly and welcoming, which has made his family’s time in Australia “quite special”.
“People work to live instead of living to work, which is a big difference to many other cultures,” he added. “I have seen a huge appreciation for having a balanced life and both mental and physical wellbeing.
“I also have really enjoyed how egalitarian society is in Australia in comparison to other cultures that may be a lot more hierarchical. This approach has allowed me to interact with so many different people which I find truly enriching and refreshing.”
Throughout his time with Bacardi, Vergara has held various regional and commercial leadership roles within both the Marketing and Commercial functions.
He said the experience has reinforced three pillars of his job as a leader: set a vision and a strategy; ensure you have the right people and culture; then setting what success looks like so you have the right KPIs in place.
Vergara believes that having the right team with the right process and the right capabilities, while being clear about expected outcomes are vital to business success.
Keys to effective leadership
Vergara was part of a recent Drinks Association Inclusive Leadership Program panel event, alongside Treasury Wine Estates Category & Marketing Director ANZ Ben Culligan, Casella Family Brands General Manager Marketing and Export Sales Libby Nutt and ALM General Manager NSW/ACT, Katherine Johnstone.
Vergara also constantly works on adapting his leadership style.
“For me one of my biggest learnings in some of my earlier leadership roles was having a cookie cutter approach to leadership and treat everyone in the way I feel more comfortable about versus understanding that when you’re leading you have to be able to flex your style depending on what the other person needs versus what your natural approach is.”
He admits “that is not easy”, but he has found it vital during his 20 years in the beverage industry.
“Always be working on your self awareness. It all starts with you and what your strengths are your awareness of your impact on others. The journey of knowing oneself is one of the most important elements of leadership journey.”
Emerging trends during COVID-19
Bacardi-Martini Australia has seen a significant increase in at-home consumption, but Vergara said the real trend is much more holistic than “cocktails at home”.
“I think COVID-19 has triggered a renewed interest in at-home entertaining, which includes many different activities, such as cooking or hosting game nights. Socialising at home is also taking many different forms, it can be from families reconnecting and being able to spend more quality time together, to gatherings with friends.
“What I do find in common, regardless of how people socialise at home, is that people are putting more effort in preparing for these occasions and making them more special, and this is where cocktails come into play as they bring an element of discovery, fun and involvement that is quite unique.
“Our Purpose at Bacardi is to “Celebrate Moments that Matter, one drink at a time”, and during these times that resonates more than ever, as people are making every moment at home matter more by making these moments more special.”
He noted that some of the most searched cocktail recipes in Google are Mojito and Margarita “and there is no better and more authentic Mojito than the one prepared with Bacardi Rum and a simply perfect Margarita is the one done with Patron Tequila”.
Gin continues to boom, which has been reflected in Bombay Sapphire sales, as consumers prepare different versions of their G&T at home or even while enjoying the classic cocktails like the Negroni.
Vergara said Bacardi is also seeing consumers choosing Grey Goose to elevate their favourite vodka drinks and cocktails.
When it comes to his personal favourite drink, it’s a closely run race.
“My two favourite drinks are the Bombay Negroni prepared with Bombay Sapphire, Martini Bitters and Martini Rosso Vermouth,” he said. “It is a very simple and classic cocktail but with great flavour balance and it is just perfect before dinner.
“And my other favourite is Patron Silver On the Rocks. Patron is such a smooth tequila, handcrafted with so much attention to detail, that makes it perfect to just sip on it. I know tequila is normally associated with ‘shots”, but once you try Patron, you discover a complete different experience on how to enjoy tequila either neat or in cocktails.”