Seagram cuts deepen

UK managing director leaves after 25 years as further cuts remove senior layer of management

Gordon Hessey, Seagram UK’s long-serving managing director, has left the company and been replaced by commercial director John Ratcliffe, in a cost-cutting move which removes a layer of senior management.

Hessey, who was with the UK arm of the Canadian drinks giant for 25 years, and has been managing director for the past seven, left on July 1.

Ratcliffe, who reported to Hessey, was appointed commercial director last August, having worked as deputy md for Seagram’s Oddbins retail chain. The post of commercial director will be axed.

Director of marketing Ian Harris and director of sales Tom Wallis will report to Ratcliffe. A spokeswoman says Hessey has left to pursue other interests in the UK drinks industry.

Martin Frost, president of Seagram Europe and Africa, says: “For the past year, Gordon has worked closely with John to effect a smooth management transition.”

Seagram UK weathered 25 senior redundancies last year as part of what the company described as a “re-engineering”. At the time, Hessey described the review as a “radical taking apart and rebuilding of a business”. Management consultancy Boston Consulting has been working with Seagram for 18 months.

In 1995, Seagram moved into the high-risk entertainment business, selling its stake in DuPont back to the petrochemicals business for $8.8bn (5.2bn). This provided the finances to buy an 80 per cent stake in MCA, now Universal.

Shareholders have cast doubt over the decision. According to Canadian newspaper reports, the DuPont stake would now be worth $16.8bn (10.2bn).

Seagram’s drinks business has meanwhile performed indifferently. Sluggish worldwide sales and tough competition may force Seagram into new alliances or acquisitions.

In the UK, the company is responsible for the sales, marketing and distribution of brands including Chivas Regal and the Glenlivet Scotch whiskies, Captain Morgan and Morgan’s Spiced rums, and Martell cognac.

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