The Bacardi Story: From Exile to Icon Status

Via Ocean Drive magazine:

The Bacardi Story: From Exile to Icon Status

To reach the front doors of the “Cathedral of Rum”—the Puerto Rican distillery where Bacardi Corp. manufactures about 85 percent of the rum it produces each year—you have to walk or drive around a circle of grass surrounded by flowers. At its center stands a head-and-shoulders bust of a middle-aged man, sculpted in bronze; behind that is a fragile sapling, barely recognizable as a tiny coconut palm. Those two items are what some 600 members of the Bacardi clan left behind after their three-day gathering in San Juan in early February to celebrate the 150th anniversary of their family-owned company’s founding in the port community of Santiago de Cuba, 675 miles away as the crow flies. The bust is of the founder of both their family and the business in which they all still have a stake. It was crafted by one of those descendants, Helena Kiely Bacardi, in the image of Don Facundo Bacardi Massó, the Catalan businessman who revolutionized the global spirits industry by transforming rum from a rough beverage suitable for serving to sailors as “grog” into a lighter-tasting, clear spirit. The coconut palm sapling? Family members planted it in memory of another coconut palm put into the ground at the time Don Facundo opened his first distillery a century and a half ago, and around which later premises were carefully constructed. “El Coco” died at the same time Cuban dictator Fidel Castro nationalized the Bacardi operations, a year after seizing power, and triggered an exodus of family members into exile around the world.

By the time they fled Cuba and ended up in some 18 different countries, the Bacardi clan had owned their rum business for nearly a century, watching it grow from a tiny distillery in a tinroofed building into a company employing about 6,000 people and shipping 1.7 million cases of rum around the world annually. In the years after leaving Cuba, both the company and family who owned it were forced to regroup and move forward. Ironically, Facundo L. Bacardi, the company’s chairman since 2005 and great-great-grandson of its founder, attributes much of Bacardi’s successful transformation from a single-product business to a global player that can compete with the likes of publicly traded entities like Diageo and Pernod Ricard USA to the very fact of its exile.

“The drive and endurance to survive and overcome such adversity that would have caused others to give up is in our DNA—the family’s and company’s,” says the 45-year-old Bacardi. Going into exile “really enabled us to accelerate the expansion of Bacardi,” to the point where the single- brand rum company has become a global spirits player with top gin, vodka, whiskey, vermouth, and tequila brands in its portfolio of 200-plus labels. At the same time, exile has only reinforced the family’s shared Cuban heritage. Although the number of family members may have doubled in the last 60-plus years and many Bacardis have never set foot on the island where the business was born, they all “have this common thread, that Cuba is where we started and where we want to go back to,” Bacardi explains. “In our souls, we are all owners of a Cuban company in exile.”

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2 thoughts on “The Bacardi Story: From Exile to Icon Status”

  1. Yes, but despite all that admirable entrepreneurial savvy, they helped finance the Castro takeover, which paid them back with confiscating their whole Cuban operation. There were many other such cases. Castro got LOTS of money from rich Cubans, all of whom he suckered and took to the cleaners. True, most Cubans were fatally fooled by Castro, but most of them didn’t actively contribute to his victory like the Bacardi family. It’s curious how some people can be extremely sharp in some ways and quite out to lunch in others.

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