A three-decade career in sales and management for Paul Beggan began in sausage and 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 witnessed the sausage being made.
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 in 2010 to Sarasota. He now consults with CEOs through the Sarasota-Manatee chapter of Vistage Florida. He also runs a spirits-industry consulting business that works with a startup rum company and a startup tequila project.
Beggan recently discussed some of his past work experiences, challenges and successes.
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.
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?”
One of the raw motivating factors in Beggan’s career was his competitiveness. 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.”
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.
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.
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.”