After nearly 16 years of outstanding service to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) and to the spirits industry, Dr. Peter H. Cressy announced to the DISCUS Board of Directors at its annual meeting last week his desire to step down as CEO at the end of 2015. In making his announcement, Dr. Cressy noted that by year’s end he would be 74 years old and, with a new strategic plan completed, with an excellent staff in place, and with an extremely capable and engaged Board at the helm, it was time to begin transitioning to new leadership.
“It has been a great privilege to be CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council and to have worked with such outstanding member companies whose commitment to both social responsibility and market modernization has been remarkable,” Dr. Cressy said. “It has been an equal honor to have worked closely with a superb staff whose professionalism is unparalleled.”
Chairman of the DISCUS Board of Directors, and Chairman of Campari America, Gerry Ruvo said, “We accept Dr. Cressy’s decision to step down with mixed emotions. He has set a standard of excellence that will be very difficult to match. His leadership has made the Distilled Spirits Council one of the top trade associations in the country, and he has helped the industry make remarkable progress both commercially and in advancing our historic commitment to alcohol responsibility. We are very grateful for his leadership and thank him for his service. He will be hard to replace.”
A Search Committee headed up by DISCUS Vice Chairman and Moёt Hennessy USA CEO Jim Clerkin, and including Dr. Cressy, will begin a national search in the near future. Discussions are underway to select a search firm. Mr. Clerkin noted, “We are particularly pleased that Dr. Cressy has promised to stay on as long as necessary to ensure a smooth transition to a new CEO. In the meantime, we are confident that Dr. Cressy’s strong leadership and our outstanding staff will ensure another strong year for the DISCUS team and the spirits industry.”
During Dr. Cressy’s tenure, the spirits industry increased its market share 25%, while supplier revenues more than doubled from $10.7 billion annually to over $23 billion. Market access and consumer convenience were greatly enhanced as Sunday sales were passed in 17 states, for a total of 38, and liberalized tasting laws were passed in 35 states for a total of 45. In addition, by embracing allies throughout the hospitality industry since 2001 the Council has defeated 355 out of 384 major tax bills at the state and local level and has had zero tax increases at the federal level.
Advancing Cultural Acceptance, Normalization and Equal Treatment
The hallmarks of Cressy’s tenure at the Council have been guided by a philosophy of advancing cultural acceptance, normalization and equal treatment while adhering to a strong commitment to alcohol responsibility. He instituted a strong focus on evidence-based policies utilizing sound science, and public transparency regarding the industry’s advertising and marketing Code of Responsible Practices, which has been cited as a model of industry self-regulation. He also worked assiduously to develop strong relationships and open lines of communication with regulators, government officials and leaders of industry sectors in Washington and across the country.
Actions Cressy has taken since joining the Council in 1999 have resulted in or have contributed to:
• the revival of cocktail culture and premiumization trends;
• the rapid expansion of television advertising including acceptance by all of the major broadcast networks;
• sponsorship agreements with NASCAR and most professional sports leagues and teams;
• tough new guidelines for industry marketing in social media;
• modernization of literally thousands of trade practice laws and regulations around the country—many of which were blue law legacies of Prohibition repeal.
Stimulating Record Export Growth and Showcasing Industry Heritage
In addition, Cressy led a vigorous international effort, reaching out to sister organizations around the globe to fight for reduced tariffs, open markets and fair treatment of U.S. distilled spirits in trade agreements. He also launched an aggressive export promotion program that conducted promotions around the globe, often with the full support of U.S. ambassadors, and that contributed to over $1.6 billion in U.S. spirits exports in 2014—the fifth straight record year.
Cressy’s keen instincts for history and industry heritage led to one of his most successful undertakings: the $1.6 million dollar reconstruction of George Washington’s Distillery at Historic Mount Vernon, including a ribbon-cutting in 2006; and the industry’s ongoing relationship with the Founding Father’s estate, where its annual industry Spirit of Mount Vernon dinner attracts a stellar Washington crowd featuring members of Congress, the Administration and foreign dignitaries, and has raised over $3.25 million for advancing the educational mission at Mount Vernon.
Dr. Cressy, a retired Navy Rear Admiral and a former Chancellor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, has said he intends to return to the University where he is a tenured professor of management. He also plans to continue to serve on a number of corporate and nonprofit boards including his present positions on the Board of the American Bureau of Shipping and the Mount Vernon Board of Advisors, where he will become even more involved.