Adapting to Change and Maintaining Brand Credibility: Ann Mukherjee, Chairman and CEO, Pernod Ricard NA

A CMO-turned-CEO and pioneer of turning consumer insights into corporate actions, Ann Mukherjee, Chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard North America, speaks at Columbia Business School’s The Future of Marketing Leadership conference.

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The Future of Marketing Leadership conference

"I think it's the 'now normal.' The only thing that is going to be certain in the future is uncertainty."

In reflecting on 2020 and the world ahead, Ann Mukherjee (Chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard North America) succinctly phrased one major theme for business and society during her discussion with Bernd Schmitt (Robert D. Calkins Professor of International Business at Columbia Business School) at The Future of Marketing Leadership conference produced by The Center on Global Brand Leadership and the ANA Educational Foundation, with the support of the Marketing Association of Columbia.

Mukherjee noted that at Pernod Ricard (the world's second largest wine and spirits company), "We talk a lot about advancing through ambiguity. In today’s world there are no rule books." In such a world, Mukherjee said that companies must strive to be learning organizations in order to adapt to these changes. At Pernod Ricard, that was manifested by creating a Pernod Ricard University division several years ago, for which an in-person campus was completed in 2017 at Domaine de La Voisine in Clairefontaine-en-Yvelines. With this learning focus, Pernod Ricard managers are expected to contemplate, "What is the intersection of the things that matter and the things you can control?"

Spirits brands have been heavily affected by exactly such things during the pandemic – from restrictions at restaurants and bars to the strong consumer shift into ecommerce shopping. Mukherjee noted that Pernod Ricard, and the industry at-large, was forced to finally get up to speed in its ecommerce development. In thinking about such digital transformations, however, she noted, "Technology is just an enablement to do what you should already be doing…. If you don't understand your underlying company strategy, how your company operates, and what will change because of the technology and what advantage it will give you, applying any technology is dangerous and costly."

Prof. Bernd Schmitt, also asked about the powerful emerging technologies that are and will influencing the future of business and society, noting in particular the "attention factor" that comes from using them and thus the need for marketing to play a role. "The beauty about AI is that it allows companies that know how to harness its power to make decisions at the speed of business," stated Mukherjee, "It doesn’t mean that human intervention goes away…. [but] it will take out a lot of the inefficiencies going on today." She reflected on one of her past roles to note that marketing initiatives that highlight new technologies must fit the brand’s core. When she was CMO of Frito-Lay, Mukherjee and her team used the 'boldness' positioning of Doritos to create a crowd-controlled concert experience at the SXSW Festival.

Following through on this, Schmitt asked about the role brands will play in today's challenging socio-cultural climate. "We are now at a time in history when people want not just to buy brands, but to buy into brands," Mukherjee stated. But she also warned that there must be credibility between a brand and any socio-political statements or actions it takes. As an example in her own company, she highlighted Absolut's history of cultural provocation providing it permission to make a statement around the #MeToo movement. "We have to take on the fact that people are using alcohol as a weapon against victims. That's unacceptable. So if you are going to drink, you have to drink responsibly and you have to sex responsibly. There is no gray area around consent."

"The days of 'it's not personal, it’s just business' are over. I bring my whole self to work." Mukherjee detailed that when Absolut launched the #sexresponsibly campaign, "I went and publicly talked about the sexual abuse that was in my life." She has found that a leader's ability to share personal experiences helps employees – "If you can be vulnerable then they can be vulnerable – if we can turn pain into power and vulnerability into impact, this is the new leadership of the future."

Watch more of the Mukherjee and Schmitt's fireside chat, along with other videos from The Future of Marketing Leadership conference, on the Center on Global Brand Leadership's YouTube playlist.

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