A childhood spending summers among her family’s Remy Martin vineyards in the Cognac region of France gave Marie-Amelie Jacquet a deep appreciation for her family’s history. She speaks to Susan Lingeswaran about seeking her own path and coming back into the family fold.
In 1881, the very first shipment of the finest and most exclusive cognac in the world landed on the shores of India. Not just one or two, but 45 cases of Remy Martin’s Louis XIII, created in 1874 and earmarked by the trading company Ernsthausen and Oesterley, were carefully offloaded at the Port of Calcutta before the ship sailed off towards Madras and Bombay.
From there, no-one knows what happened to the precious consignment—whether the bottles found their way to the homes of the rich or royal, or were hidden away in one of the countless palaces of the hundreds of princely states of India. They were all but forgotten.
Fast forward to 2015— Remy Martin’s 140th anniversary—and the family behind the French cognac producer was about to receive an unexpected call that would bring this historic shipment to the fore.
Christophe Bourrie, Remy Martin’s ambassador for the South-East Asia, India and Middle East regions had been doing the rounds and discovered some clients had been storing historic Louis XIII cognac bottles from as long as the 1940s. Was there someone out there who had an even older bottle, Bourrie wondered? The only way to find out was to ask the family that has owned the brand for generations.
It was Marie-Amelie Jacquet who got the call. The 41-year-old is a fourth generation member of the Heriard Dubreuil family, which has run the Remy Martin cognac house for more than 90 years. Fascinated by her family’s history, having only joined the business five years earlier as a financial controller, Jacquet proposed an idea to look at the records of the company to see when the first bottles of Louis XIII were shipped to the region.
Scouring through archives, she not only found the famed Indian shipment, but shipping documents related to a consignment to Penang and two shipments of 30 bottles arriving in Singapore—both in 1881. Looking further back, she found the Remy Martin Company started exporting their first cases in 1875 to Scandinavia and Australia.
Determined to keep history alive, Jacquet shared the story with the public and launched a global search for the oldest decanters of its prized beverage and the stories behind them—a search which continues today.
It is this deep sense of duty to preserve Remy Martin’s legacy that first drew Jacquet to leave an established career in finance and join her family’s business—a calling that has been passed down through the generations.
“Growing up, I never realised how significant the Remy Martin brand was to the world—for me, it was just where my mother worked,” Jacquet explains from her office in Paris.
“It was only after talking to people about it that I realised how important it is to them. They had such knowledge about cognac and its history and I thought, ‘Wow, we have this legacy of being caretakers of this special brand and we [the next generation] have to make sure it carries on and has a long life’.”
A duty of care
As the great-granddaughter of Andre Renaud—a vineyard owner in Cognac and business partner of Remy Martin heir Paul-Emile Remy Martin—Jacquet is a descendant of Remy-Martin’s first non-family caretaker. Having no family of his own, in 1910, Remy Martin asked Renaud to carry on his family’s legacy.
Renaud duly obliged, overseeing a period of great growth and passing the business on to his son-in-law, Andre Heriard Dubreuil—Jacquet’s grandfather—in 1965 upon his death.
It is Heriard Dubreuil’s children—Dominique, François, and Marc Heriard Dubreuil—who now run the company. All three had well-established careers outside the family business before being summoned to take over, with Dominique—Jacquet’s mother—first appointed as general manager in 1988 and then president in 1991.
Under the siblings, the House of Remy Martin has become a giant in the spirits sector after merging with liqueur distillery Cointreau to become Remy Cointreau. It generated €1.12 billion ($1.27 billion) in revenue in 2017-18.
Its expanded portfolio now includes Remy Cointreau and Louis XIII cognacs, Cointreau liqueur, Greek spirit METAXA, Mount Gay rum, St-Remy brandy, The Botanist gin, Bruichladdich single malts, Passoa liqueur, Westland American whisky, and Domaine des Hautes Glaces whisky.
All three siblings have acted as chairperson of the business at different times and today they remain on the board of Andromede—the holding company of the Heriard Dubreuil family and parent company of Remy Cointreau.
But it is the next generation that is now stepping up to take over as caretakers of the family business—a path, Jacquet says, she and her cousins felt a strong duty towards after pursuing their own careers.
“I suppose a lot of it has to do with family values and being Catholic—we’re big on guilt and we are big on duty as well,” Jacquet says.
“For me, and I think my cousins will say the same, when we grew up, we were never told you will have to go into the business—we were always told we could do whatever we want, but we have to do it to the best of our ability.
“So all of us ended up doing very different things—we have a lawyer, a drone engineer, food specialist, someone who is into real estate, and someone who is into fashion.”
For Jacquet, it was pursuing a career as an investment banker, specialising in mergers and acquisitions in London for eight years.
“I never actually had plans to join the family business—I always said I would never do that and I was quite happy doing my own thing in London,” Jacquet says.
“But it turns out that being a banker is a pretty stressful job and I literally broke my back doing it. I had two prolapsed discs at the age of 30.
“I ended up resigning and spent about a year recovering from that episode and I started to think that perhaps it was a sign I should do something that was a little easier on the body.”
Jacquet’s time out recovering from injury in 2008 proved pivotal for her. Two years earlier her mother and uncles had gathered their combined 12 children—half of whom were aged over 30—to gauge whether any would be interested in entering the family business and, if so, to start thinking about how they wanted to engage.
“This was the time that the reflection started for me and I thought, ‘Actually, I need to do this now because it is important to me’,” Jacquet says.
“It came from a strong belief that I was born into this family, which is luck, and there is a strong link between my family and the company. We have this duty of care to the brands, the people working for the company, our parents, and to our grandparents who spent most of their lives looking after it.
“It was not just me as an individual joining, it was the whole next generation—some people got involved on the board and then a few years later in 2010, three of us, myself, one of my cousins and his wife decided to join Remy Cointreau operationally.”
It was decided all family members wanting to enter would be made to go through the proper channels, applying for available roles within the company. But while Jacquet knew she wanted to be involved in her family’s business, what she had not thought about was what role she wanted to play.
“I remember setting up a meeting where I was going to pitch to the chief executive that I was available with a background in finance and very keen to work for the company to understand it.
“But the first thing he did was welcome me and say, ‘Okay, you are going to work with this lady, she is great and she’s going to teach you everything you need to know’—it had all been set up for me, which I thought was great.”
After her meeting Jacquet immediately dived into her new career at Remy Cointreau as a financial controller for the company’s liquor and spirits division—a part of the business she admits she had little knowledge of.
“I knew more about the cognac side, so it was good to start at liquors, but I was really just throwing myself into the work and going to as many meetings as possible to learn,” she says.
“The role made it possible for me to attend discussions about new product development or packaging issues, which is around the marketing side of things. I was able to understand the history of the products, why we do things, what we have done before and limited editions, which I think was a great way to learn.”
But like anyone starting a new job in a new company, Jacquet says when she started out, she had apprehensions about entering her family business—would they treat her differently? Would it be different from her experience outside the family business?
“I really was expecting a negative reaction from other people when I joined because I was part of the family, but I can honestly say I never felt it. The people who work for the company feel so strongly about the brands that when they did realise I was part of the family, they said it was excellent that the next generation was already working beside them,” she says.
“I was really happy about it because it was the one thing that worried me, that they weren’t going to tell me things or they were going to be more careful around me and not treat me like a regular colleague, which is what I wanted to be.”
With the support of her new colleagues and renewed enthusiasm for working for a company she truly cared about, Jacquet thrived in her role as financial controller for the company’s commercial side. A year later, she moved to being financial controller for Western Europe and Africa, dealing with all products in those territories and then, in 2013, she became the financial controller for duty free and Asia.
In 2017, after seven years of working at Remy Cointreau getting to know all its brands, Jacquet decided to move on from having an operational role at the family business. She joined her mother and uncles on the board of the family’s holding company and investment
She now acts as the managing director of Andromede, actively supervising and helping to grow all the companies the family has invested in, including her old haunt Remy Cointreau, winemaking managing consultants Oeneo, luxury multi-brand fashion house The Webster, drone manufacturer Microdrones, personalised diet company WeCook, plus hotel and hospitality brand Alboran.
“I am still very involved in Remy—not operationally, but in a supervisory capacity because Andromede is its parent company,” she says.
“But as a holding company, we feel very strongly
that we want to be active shareholders that can work with the management teams on the strategy and vision going forward.”
Although Jacquet has had her hands full overseeing her family’s large portfolio, her biggest project to date has been securing the future of Andromede by leading the charge to implement a governance structure for her generation and the next—a process which has taken two years to complete.
For her mother’s generation, Jacquet says, having only three members all living in France meant it has been relatively easy for them to decide on business matters without the need for formal governance.
For Jacquet’s larger generation, however, only one family member from each family branch would attend meetings and update their siblings. This worked for a while, but as more family members started taking more active roles in the companies of Andromede, things got tougher.
“We realised that while it was easy for our parents to get in a room and work things out together, our generation was more complex because there are 12 of us living in different parts of the world and not everyone is involved on the same level,” Jacquet explains.
“We decided the only way to make sure our generation remains a stable unit was to think about having a governance structure that would suit our needs as a larger group and could be scaled up for the next generation, which has 26 members so far.”
In the end, the family dealt with setting up their governance charter similarly to how they had managed before—one member from each family—called branches—would take the lead and sit on the governance committee. Together with the consultants they brought in to help them, they defined a set of questions for each member to answer.
“The first point was to ask if we wanted to remain as a family group, which we said we did, and then we were interviewed one by one—including husbands and wives of my cousins because they are also parents of the next generation.”
Happily for the committee, they found all members wanted to discuss communication and flow of information, governance and have a formal human resources process for members to join the business. Separate consultant groups were set up to build frameworks on each issue and now, two years and many meetings later, Andromede has come up with a term sheet for a shareholders agreement and a charter for the holding company, which will be ready to be signed imminently.
“It was a surprise, but it was a relatively straightforward process for us because even though all of us have different ideas or ways of doing things, the key point for us is that we decided we all wanted to do this and we were all engaged,” Jacquet says.
“We even decided between the 22 [including partners] of us that we wouldn’t adopt something unless everyone agreed with it unanimously—it wasn’t a case of voting and majority—we wanted a consensus. We knew that would require compromises, but everyone ended up getting on board.”
With the company’s governance charter almost complete and the next generation fully engaged with the future of the family business, what’s next for Jacquet?
“There are always things our generation can improve on—communication is a really big thing because the decision makers do not always share the reasoning behind their decisions. [Communication] was something identified in our generation, people want to understand why it is a good thing for the family as a whole so we are working on that,” she says.
“For me personally? I’m realising more and more how special the brands we have are and we need to take care and protect that heritage so we can pass the torch to the next generation.
“We have a duty to pass something along that remains powerful and valuable—not just an inheritance, but everything that goes around it—grow it and let it prosper because we are so lucky to have been given this gift.”