Master Class

4 lessons on enduring global success from Hennessy president Bernard Peillon

The president of the French house offers key lessons on expanding globally without getting lost in translation.

In China, it is common practice to sip on Hennessy with iced green tea. In the Caribbean, coconut water is preferred, while in Poland, where apple farms are a major industry, consumers mix the premium cognac with a splash of fresh apple juice.

“Hennessy is a very versatile drink,” president Bernard Peillon says, who reaffirms that the cognac can be enjoyed in many different ways based on mood or culture, including neat, with three ice cubes, or as a cocktail. “There are as many ways to enjoy Hennessy as there are taste palettes.”

The ability to adapt while still maintaining a distinct expression is characteristic of Hennessy both as a product and as a global business, Peillon adds. Adaptability is crucial for the global success of the company, with products that are popular from Los Angeles to Shanghai, and everywhere in between.

Here, four lessons from Peillon, who has worked with LVMH for more than a quarter-century, on how to ensure successful global expansion while maintaining brand integrity.

Listen to the world

We are great observers of change. We travel a lot, and our reason for travelling is not only to interact with [global] teams, but also to interact with opinion leaders of different walks in life, and to take the pulse of the fundamental elements like the economy and middle class growth. The first thing to do is listen to the world, and try to understand the specificities of the country.

Become adaptable, but retain brand integrity

This is a bit specific to Hennessy in the way it developed—not all brands are going to interact the same. Hennessy is like a chameleon. When a chameleon moves into different environments, it takes on the colour of the environment, and blends in. In terms of brands, the ability to connect to the specificities of any given market is a talent. What’s really interesting about the chameleon is the skin changes to adapt [to the environment], but underneath it is the same animal. To be really successful, brands need to remain true to themselves.

Keep your hand on the pulse

Since the very beginning, the Hennessy family has written [travel logs] on what they had seen and done abroad. The idea was always to merge ourselves into the social fabric of any given society or country —to really understand it deep down, and to connect with its people. We do this to ensure we’ll have our hands on the pulse so whatever we’re doing resonates with the local consumer.

The job is never done

My role with my team is to ensure that I coordinate the expression of Hennessy while always being respectful of what constitutes Hennessy. The brand stands for deep timeless values including luxury, lifestyle, and craftsmanship. What makes Hennessy successful is the ability to connect with younger consumers, or consumers who have more experience with cognac, and to make sure [the brand and the consumers] understand each other every time. Exporting across the global is a talent you have to work on constantly to perfect your game and to make sure you understand whats going on when connecting your brand with any given market.