A three-decade career in sales and management for Paul Beggan began in sausage ended in spirits.
The sausage part was Beggan's first job after college, with Oscar Meyer in Madison, Wis. It was a sales position, but he spent time on the factory floor, where he literally witnessed the sausage being made. Says Beggan: “I saw all the gory details.”
That job soon led to a sales position with Bacardi, the rum and spirits giant. Beggan began working for Bacardi in 1982. In 2002 he was named president and CEO of Bacardi Canada, which grew from $68 million in annual sales to $125 million during Beggan's tenure. In 2007 he moved to Switzerland, where he ran a $250 million software integration project for the company.
Beggan moved to Sarasota in 2010. He now consults with CEOs through the Sarasota-Manatee chapter of Vistage Florida. He also runs a spirits-industry consulting business that currently works with a startup rum company and a startup tequila project.
Beggan recently discussed some of his past work experiences, challenges and successes with the Business Observer.
On tour: At Bacardi Canada, Beggan ran a company with 175 employees, where seven managers reported directly to him. He spent his first three months in the Toronto headquarters on a listening tour. He held a three-day retreat with top managers, where he only participated from the background. Says Beggan: “It was a way for us to move forward with what kind of company we wanted to be.”
From the gut: Beggan adheres to the hire slow/fire fast philosophy, no matter how difficult it is to let people go. “You always want to believe a person will turn it around,” Beggan says. “But in your gut you know it's not going to work.”
You oughta know: A key move in Beggan's time at Bacardi Canada was a restructuring of roles and responsibilities. Beggan sought to eliminate communication walls between people and departments. He had signs made up and put all over the office that said, “Do our people know?” If the answer was no, employees were supposed to make sure they found out.
Play hard: One of the raw motivating factors in Beggan's career was his competitiveness. For example, he and his team at Bacardi Canada always checked sales numbers against their American-based counterparts. “I'm a competitive person,” Beggan says. “You are in business to keep score, and we did that a lot.”
Decision time: Beggan's favorite business saying is “sooner is better than perfect,” a phrase from famed IBM executive Lou Gerstner. He always sought information and opinions from trusted executives, but he moved with purpose. Says Beggan: “The desire to get out in front of something was always the way to go for me.”
Be positive: Beggan says he had several good bosses during his career, and a few great mentors. But the bad bosses stick out, too, if only for displaying traits he never wanted to have. Most prominent on that list was ego. Beggan says when a manager thinks of himself first, not the company or his employees, the results usually lean negative.
Plans change: Bacardi made several high-level executive changes in 2010, and the person who appointed Beggan to the Geneva job was forced out. A few months later, with a new CEO, Beggan also saw that his job was on the way out. Beggan believed at one point the Geneva job was a step on the ladder to his ultimate career goal: Running U.S. operations for Bacardi. That didn't pan out. “At one point you are part of the past, not the future,” Beggan says. “It happens to everyone.”
Here are some of Paul Beggan's most memorable business/life lessons from a 30-year career in sales and leadership positions.
-If you are a boss with status, don't give it up: make them take it away at a price;
-Stick to your expertise after 40. Try the new stuff before 40;
-Take 10 years to learn the business, 10 years to make a name for yourself;
-Have fun, be proud of your job and never, never be late;
-Ask questions, be humble and listen;
-Fall in love with your direct reports and show them trust, humor, loyalty and support;
-Make sure your family is on board — your spouse is everything;
-People turn out to be who they think they are;
-Prepare to change jobs every five years. Relationships count;
-Always make it about the other person, it's not about you.