After 15 years working with our brands and 10 years in our Group, Steven Vanbockrijck—Financial Director for Rémy Cointreau Central West Europe & CFO at Rémy Cointreau Belgium-Luxembourg—feels that his role is “not just a job; it’s a job where you become passionate about your brands.”
Your foray into the spirits business?
I started working as a Financial Controller between Amsterdam and Brussels with Rémy Cointreau’s former distribution partner in Belgium 15 years ago. I held several international finance roles before Rémy Cointreau decided to build their own distribution network. Rémy Cointreau contacted me about an office they were opening in Miami, Florida, to manage Duty Free and the Americas domestic regions. I was hired into a split job, managing the finance role of the two business units. Moreover, it was a very interesting zone where you have lots of contrast with Canadian liquor-board system, open provinces and the dynamics of the South American and Caribbean markets. And at Mount Gay rum, I was involved in setting up a shared services office, so all South America invoicing could get trafficked through Barbados.
Your move to Scotland to work with Bruichladdich Distillery?
When Rémy Cointreau purchased Bruichladdich, I was asked to cover the finance role, becoming finance controller not only for the brand, but also for the distillery: Finance Director was my official title. My move was extremely exciting, as I am a big Scotch malt whisky fan. I was the only Rémy Cointreau veteran in the Bruichladdich team when I started, because everyone else had been there before the acquisition.
What can you share about your experience on Islay?
It was fascinating witnessing the Progressive Hebridean Distillers’ independent, creative mindset and how well they adapted to working with Rémy Cointreau. At the beginning, there was a lot of excitement about being part of a bigger Group, but also a little worry over how things would change. The benefits of working with a larger Group—but not just any Group, specifically with Rémy Cointreau—became apparent over the years.
Rémy Cointreau respected everything as it was: There are still no computers in the distillation area. We put a lot of investment into training our team, and I believe that to fully understand something, you need to come to the home of the brand (i.e., see it for yourself). People are shocked when they see Bruichladdich. Everything is still done by hand in a very traditional way, and when Rémy Cointreau purchased it, nothing changed in that regard. They also believed that is the best way to make a hand-crafted single malt. Instead of integrating high-tech machinery, Rémy Cointreau hired more people, so they could produce more single malt with the same quality, investing in people and in warehouses on the island. You could feel the passion, because everyone involved truly believed in what we made.
What does your current role entail?
After five years with Bruichladdich, I moved to Geneva, where I am now based, with weekly travel to the Brussels office. I am the Finance Director of the Central West Europe zone, which entails managing the link on all finance topics with our third-party distribution partners and managing the back-office team of our Belux Rémy entity. The zone is quite diverse with our own offices in Belgium and Luxemburg, and as Switzerland is a very big market for LOUIS XIII, we have our own sales team there. Outside Belgium and Luxembourg, my role is more of finance controller, working with a group of finance controllers in the region. You are not limited to any industry in finance, but I like to attach meaning to numbers to bring them to life. For example, The Botanist is growing. You don’t just look at figures: You know there is a brilliant gin behind it.
What keeps you around, after 15 years working with our brands and 10 years in our Group?
The people and the brands. The mentality is the same in all our offices: It’s a culture of good people working very hard towards a common goal. I also love the way our Group is managed. It’s a family company, and you can feel that they have a long-term vision. It’s not just about buying brands to make a profit. They want to build upon a premium portfolio and only seek high-quality products with a history that are rooted in the places where they are made. Rémy Cointreau keeps the heritage of its brands: brands with hope for the future. People joining Rémy Cointreau are here because the brands speak to them. Working with these people makes you want to stay.
Your choice spirit?
I had a Negroni with The Botanist gin and a hint of Port Charlotte whisky in China, and it was absolutely delicious. I am still trying to recreate it, but you’d have to be a better bartender than me to get the measurements right. Cocktail-wise, The Botanist gin martini is still my favorite.