T here’s a new general in the multibillion dollar booze wars. Last November, Carl Horton was named president and CEO of The Absolut Spirits Company, a subsidiary of V&S (Vin & Sprit AB) of Stockholm, Sweden.
By assuming the helm of the third-largest alcoholic beverage company in the U.S., Horton has become the industry’s top-ranking African American as well as one of the most powerful black executives in corporate America (See “Navigating Rough Waters,” February 2002). His simple, yet challenging, mandate: Keep Absolut, which sells 4.7 million cases of alcohol per year, the most profitable brand in the vodka category. “We are well-positioned in the marketplace,” says the 25-year liquor veteran. “But the industry has become much more competitive so we will have to engineer new products and find ways to market our products more aggressively.”
Horton was promoted to his new position, in part, because of the restructuring of Absolut’s domestic operations. When Vivendi, the French media and utilities monolith, acquired Seagram’s in 2000, it got the company’s Universal Studios assets as well as its $5 billion-a-year liquor cabinet — except for Absolut. V&S had a contract with Seagram to distribute and market the premium brand outside of Sweden. After the sale, V&S terminated the contract and entered into a domestic distribution agreement with Future Brands L.L.C., a joint venture between Absolut and Jim Beam Brands. (According to the terms of the original deal with Seagram, V&S could find an alternate U.S. distributor if Seagram were to be sold.)
Since 1991, he has held senior management positions, overseeing such brands as Seagram’s Gin, Myer’s Rum, and Captain Morgan Spiced Rum. (He was the executive who successfully introduced Seagram’s Gin & Juice, which was made popular by rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg in the early ’90s.)
In 1994, when Seagram and Absolut entered a joint contractual agreement to market and distribute the vodka worldwide, Horton was placed in charge of the development of The Absolut Group, a 33-person division responsible for marketing the brand. He served as vice president in charge of marketing Absolut throughout North America. Among his major accomplishments is the introduction of Absolut Mandrin flavored vodka, which grew from 2.7 million cases in 1994 to 4.7 million in 2001.
In fact, Horton views his new role as making the transition from a corporate executive to an entrepreneur of a start-up. “It’s exciting because everything is new,” he told BE. “We have a management team in place, and we are developing a new structure for the company. These days, everyone has to wear a number of hats — including me.”