Paula Lindenberg, CEO of Diageo: “I do not need to be proper, I need to achieve success”
Paula Lindenberg is president in Brazil of Diageo, the largest manufacturer of distilled beverages in the world
“I don’t want to be right, I want to be successful”, says Paula Lindenberg about building a corporate culture in which employees are curious and daring – even to disagree. “I need a team that makes us think differently, that brings new alternatives, that leads to better decisions.” Paula is on the Forbes list of the best CEOs of 2022.
In nine months as president of Diageo in Brazil, the executive, coming from Ambev for 20 years, says she has already revised some of her concepts about distillates. She bet, for example, that the ready to drink, like Smirnoff Ice, were the great way to recruit beer consumers. But she was convinced by the team that there were more profitable options, such as cocktails, and this led to the launch of Johnnie Blonde, a whiskey aimed at use in cocktails.
The goals for the Brazilian operation are high. “We have the financial ambition of more than doubling the company by 2026”, says Paula. In the last fiscal year, which ended in June, net sales in the PUB region (Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil) grew 36%, driven mainly by Brazilian numbers, up 32%. “We also gained share both in distillates and in total alcohol and in the whiskey, vodka, gin, ready-to-drink categories.
drink and cachaça.”
Paula joined Diageo in January 2022 to lead the PUB region, but since July, she has focused only on Brazil. Leaving the position of president for the United Kingdom, Ireland and Spain at Anheuser-Busch InBev came from the desire to return from London to São Paulo and bring stability to her daughters, aged 15 and 12 years.
Within the brewery group, the São Paulo native had already led the global insights area in New York and, between 2015 and 2018, assumed the vice-presidency of marketing in Brazil. “I was the first woman to be vice-president of Ambev”, she says. “What I am most proud of during this period was the work to fight the stereotype that beer had created around women.” It started with the making of new posters for Skol by a team of illustrators and led the company to assume the commitment to no longer make commercials with bikini models. “I understood that my job was bigger than selling beer. It was touching culture. It’s a blessing to have brands that can generate conversation.”
These are conversations that she now says she is having at Diageo, where she has already found a more mature environment in relation to issues such as diversity, with paternity and maternity leave of six months and 50% of women in leadership positions. “But then again, we have brands that are much bigger than alcohol. Johnny Walker has a positioning that is ‘keep walking’. After two years of the pandemic, in a time of war, maybe there’s nothing people need more than ‘keep walking’.”