The Rise of Bacardi

The Rise of Bacardi

From Cuban Rum to a Global Empire, an insider’s story

Author: Jorge Del Rosal

Review by: Jason Spiller

If Ian Fleming had ever written a fictional corporate thriller, it would have been the story of Bacardi. The Rise of Bacardi by Jorge Del Rosal is not fiction, amazingly it’s a true account, complete with all of the exotic and pungent ingredients of a cocktail that could floor Ernest Hemingway. Del Rosal is fifth generation member of the Bacardi family and spent 35 years as a Master Blender, before taking a detour into another heady mixture, the beguiling world of HR. His tenure in personnel – as it was then – led to Del Rosal becoming global VP of HR, but his early beginnings were anything but planned. The previous personnel incumbent had been fired for various wrongdoings, when head of Bacardi, Jose Pepin Bosch, asked Del Rosal to step into the role. Del Rosal told Pepin that he didn’t know the first thing about people management, but Pepin was insistent: “It’s easy… begin by learning the names of everybody.”

Del Rosal relays the history from the early years of Bacardi in the mid-18th Century with derring do at every turn and guides the reader right up to the modern era, in a style that mixes detailed, recorded fact with well-honed anecdotes. Sure, it boasts corporate and business detail aplenty, about growth and the ambition to globalise, about the days of prohibition and sky-high taxes. But that doesn’t spoil the story which barrels along relentlessly – part personal, part corporate history – what makes it stand out from the rank and file corporate stories are the rip-roaring yarns, none more so than when Bacardi’s factory in Cuba was seized – along with all company assets – by Castro, forcing Bacardi to flee, eventually to reestablish production in Hamilton Bermuda.

Del Rosal is a great story teller with an easy, conversational style, which makes compelling reading and the book works on a number of different levels: First, it’s an amazing history lesson of a 250 year old business, that has had its fair share of ups and downs. It’s also a story of overcoming adversity and about the never-say-die attitude of the very best in business endeavour. It’s about losing everything and having the spirit and guts to begin again, about building the corporate framework to support a rapidly growing business in volatile times and the characters through time that forged and foiled progress. It even has bats hanging from rafters in the old Cuban factory, which inspired Bacardi’s instantly recognisable global brand. From an HR point of view – from some pretty rough-and-ready beginnings – a particular style of HR formulated for Bacardi and the result has become a cocktail in itself, boasting the sort of ingredients that most corporates could only dream of. Steeped in family values and  company culture, the importance of listening and empathy came to Bacardi, at a time when most employers considered employees dispensable subordinates. Indeed, in HR terms, Bacardi is a trail blazer and, in the modern era, the level of engagement in its people is highly-prized, with employees as brand ambassadors. Bacardi’s “Primos” – the name given to employees – completely exemplify that a compelling link between a business and its people is a winning formula.

Published by LID

Jason Spiller, Editor – theHRDIRECTOR