Jack Daniel's CEO to Retire

Paul C. Varga has led Brown-Forman Corp. for more than a decade.

5912413620 56141647f9 B

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Paul C. Varga, who has led Brown-Forman Corp. for more than a decade, will retire at year's end, and will be succeeded as CEO by another executive at the spirits company best known for its Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey brand.

The next CEO at the Louisville-based company will be Lawson E. Whiting, who currently serves as chief operating officer. Varga will remain on Brown-Forman's board of directors after stepping down as CEO.

Varga focused during his tenure on Brown-Forman's premium spirits portfolio while expanding its global markets and overseeing the release of brand extensions.

The company built on its best-known brand by rolling out Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey and Jack Daniel's Tennessee Fire, capitalizing on an industrywide trend toward flavored whiskeys. The company has rejuvenated its Old Forester bourbon brand, and is set to officially open its new downtown Louisville distillery for the historic brand next month.

The company expanded its global reach, and its products now are sold in more than 165 countries.

Brown-Forman's extensive brand lineup also includes Finlandia, Korbel, el Jimador, Woodford Reserve, Canadian Mist, Herradura, Sonoma-Cutrer and Early Times. The company has nearly 4,700 employees.

The company is looking for a smooth leadership transition, and Varga said Tuesday that Lawson is "ideally suited" to assume the role as CEO.

"In determining the best time to implement the final piece of this succession plan, I naturally considered the readiness of the company to navigate a leadership transition such as this, and now is the right time," Varga said.

Whiting, 49, is a 21-year Brown-Forman executive who began his career in corporate development and investor relations. Since then he has held several roles, including assignments in finance, marketing and commercial functions in the United States and Europe. He helped reshape Brown-Forman's portfolio as chief brands and strategy officer.

Whiting said he will take over as CEO at a time when the company is performing well. He said he looks forward to leading Brown-Forman's next rounds of growth.

"We will continue to focus on the premium American whiskey category and further strengthen our super-premium brand portfolio," Whiting said.

Varga will be capping a 31-year career at Brown-Forman. George Garvin Brown IV, chairman of the company's board, on Tuesday praised Varga for transforming the company's extensive spirits portfolio.

"Paul entered the leadership ranks at a time when the future of American whiskey was in doubt, even in the United States," he said. "He will retire having successfully grown the Jack Daniel's franchise into one of the most valuable spirits trademarks in the world."