The Boards of Directors of the Distilled Spirits Council and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.Org) have named Chris R. Swonger, a long-time government affairs executive and industry veteran, the president and CEO of both organizations. The move is designed to more closely align the missions and activities of the two groups following a strategic review process that set out ambitious plans for the future of both organizations while identifying shared value opportunities to amplify the impact of their collective work.
Under Swonger’s direction, both organizations will maintain individual identities and missions while aligning under common executive leadership. Swonger will join the Distilled Spirits Council on November 12, and will assume leadership of Responsibility.org effective January 1, 2019.
The Council is the leading voice for distilled spirits in the U.S. market and serves as the industry’s advocate in state capitals, the nation’s capital and foreign capitals around the globe. Funded by leading distillers, Responsibility.org leads the fight to eliminate drunk driving and underage drinking and promotes responsible decision-making regarding beverage alcohol.
Swonger most recently served as senior vice president for global government relations at Smiths Group, a diversified global technology company with interests in homeland security, defense, aerospace, energy & environment, and medical devices, among others. Previously, he spent 15 years in the spirits industry, during which he led government affairs for Beam and Allied Domecq, two spirits industry giants.
“Chris is a terrific fit to lead these organizations at a dynamic time in our industry. He brings a wealth of advocacy experience, vision and energy, along with background in our industry and outstanding passion for our commitment to responsibility,” said Deirdre Mahlan, president of Diageo North America and chair of the Distilled Spirits Council. “I would also like to thank interim CEO Clarkson Hine for his leadership and excellent work driving continued momentum at the Council.”
Mike Keyes, Brown-Forman senior vice president, chief corporate affairs officer and FAAR chairman added, “Underage drinking and drunk driving are at historic lows in the U.S., and Responsibility.org under Ralph Blackman’s leadership has played a critical role in this progress. We thank Ralph for his 22 years of remarkable leadership, which will conclude at year end. Our work is not done, and Chris is the ideal leader to build on our progress and advance this important mission.” Blackman previously announced his intent to retire as president and CEO of Responsibility.org at the end of 2018.
Swonger stated, “I’m looking forward to returning to the distilled spirits industry, and will be honored to promote and protect the interests of such fine companies and advance their high standards of responsibility and policy advocacy. I plan to vigorously promote moderation and responsibility, while advocating for market access, equal treatment and common-sense policies that enable the continued growth of the distilled spirits industry.
“And, I look forward to working closely with the boards of both organizations to maximize the impact of their respective visions, missions and strategies,” Swonger concluded.
Swonger, a Texas native and graduate of Texas Tech, lives in McLean, Va. with his wife Amy and two sons, Holden and Beckett.
Since 1991, leading members of the distilled spirits industry have supported Responsibility.org and have invested nearly $300 million in policy development, educational programs and public awareness campaigns to fight drunk driving and underage drinking. Since the inception of Responsibility.org drunk driving fatalities have decreased 31 percent and lifetime alcohol consumption among our nation’s youth has decreased 48 percent.
The Distilled Spirits Institute was established in 1933 following the repeal of Prohibition. It later became the Distilled Spirits Council in 1973, as a result of the merger of three organizations — The Distilled Spirits Institute, The Bourbon Institute and The Licensed Beverage Industries, Inc. For more information, go to DistilledSpirits.org.