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Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes speaks to guests during the annual Reuters IMPACT summit, in London, on Oct. 3, 2022.MAJA SMIEJKOWSKA/Reuters

Diageo DEO-N on Wednesday said long-time boss Ivan Menezes, who held the CEO role at the world’s biggest spirits company for 10 years, had died after a brief illness.

The 63-year-old, who was set to retire at the end of this month, was in hospital receiving treatment for conditions including a stomach ulcer, the Johnnie Walker whisky maker announced this week.

His recovery had suffered a significant setback due to complications, which followed emergency surgery on the ulcer, Diageo had said, adding that CEO-designate Debra Crew would assume the top role on an interim basis immediately as a result.

British-American national Menezes, born in the Indian city of Pune, joined Diageo after its formation through the merger of Guinness and Grand Metropolitan in 1997.

The executive, who was behind the “Keep Walking” campaign for Johnnie Walker when he was marketing head, previously held roles at Whirlpool and Nestle.

“This is an incredibly sad day. Ivan was undoubtedly one of the finest leaders of his generation,” said Diageo chairman Javier Ferrán.

“The desire to build the world’s best brands never left him.”

Diageo, which also makes Tanqueray gin and Don Julio tequila, has seen sales surge under Menezes’ leadership, and he steered the company through multiple brand acquisitions as well as a major sustainability overhaul.

The company accounts for 10 per cent of the UK’s total food and drinks exports.

“Ivan was rare in combining phenomenal corporate success without ego or vanity, and combining conventional achievement with being a devoted family man, and caring and generous to scores of friends and acquaintances,” Arvind Subramanian, former Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India, said in a WhatsApp message to Reuters.

Subramanian and Menzes were contemporaries at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, India.

Menezes, who was awarded a knighthood this year, is survived by his wife and two children.

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