On Wednesday, we had the privilege of spending time with Mr. Maurice Hennessy, a global brand Ambassador and 8th generation of the Hennessy family. Mr. Maurice was visiting Kenya together with his nephew Mr. Roch Hennessy as part of 200 years’ anniversary celebration of Hennessy VSOP.
Kenyan Wall Street met Mr Maurice for lunch to delve deeper into the heritage of the Hennessy brand and the direction it’s headed to in the greater East african region.
Here is an excerpt from our conversation;
KW: In the 50’s Hennessy was one of the first brands to engage the black community by advertising in black centric magazines like Ebony and Jet. How instrumental is the black community to the Hennessy brand?
Mr maurice: We were one of the only large brands to engage the black community. We noticed that the black community especially in the united states identifies with Hennessy. It is often used as marker of success. We didn’t buy their loyalty or stoke it. It happened naturally. However due to this we made it a priority to engage the community through brand ambassadors. In kenya we created a special bottle for Kenya to mark the country’s 50 years of independence. We like to respect and take into account the culture of the country and celebrate them through our brand.We’ve done the same in Barbados and all over the world.
KW: Hennessy has enjoyed a positive Relationship with pop culture around the world. Tell us more about that?
Mr. Maurice: Hennessy has featured quite a lot in pop culture through music and film. We appreciate it. It features heavily because of the excellence and quality of the cognacs from the blending and aging of the cognac to the bottle design and, the commitment to building a brand for 252 years.
We do the same here in Kenya, partnering with local talent and working with influencers who fit with our brand. We are very particular about having the right people representing us.
KW: How did you start the Hennessy VSOP brand?
Mr.Maurice: Located in the Cognac region of France, the Hennessy cognac distillery was founded by Irishman Richard Hennessy in 1765, Irish officer serving in the army. Being a connoisseur of cognac, King George IV of great Britain asked Hennessy to create a “very superior old pale cognac” – and the Hennessy V.S.O.P was created. The initials V.S.O.P – Very Superior Old Pale – have been used since then.
KW: Your business has survived 252 years in the market. What is the secret to longevity in a family business that you can pass on to kenyans?
Mr. maurice: Our founder Richard Hennessy who started the Hennessy brand archived a lot of his work and so did those who followed him. We have a very large selection of writings and record keeping from over 200 years ago. This ensures the consistency of the brand and the Cognac.
We’ve also had Authoritarian leadership right from the start. That means the business was not necessarily about monetary value but we focused more on creating and maintaining excellence through each generation of the Hennessy family.
Before the merger with Louis Vuitton to form LVMH we limited the number of shareholders to three. It was easier to manage the ideas.
KW: Why Kenya?
Mr Alex (Kenyan Rep): The Kenyan middle class has been growing each year, though we experienced a slow uptake last year as most people didn’t know what the outcome of the elections would be. But we’ve seen an uptake since the elections were completed. Hennessy enjoys brand loyalty in Kenya. Kenya is a very unique and exciting country.
KW: How do you fight counterfeiting in Kenya?
Mr. Alex: Kenyan Representative: We have proposed to the government that they ensure that they authenticate products coming into and being consumed in the country. There’s tax applied on every bottle Hennessy brings into the country. it’s in the best interest of the government then to ensure that Kenyans are consuming authentic products. However, our products are on the expensive side, and the taste and blend is very unique to Hennessy. It’s easy to tell a counterfeit.
Hennessy, is a cognac house with headquarters in Cognac, France. Hennessy sells about 50 million bottles a year worldwide, or more than 40 percent of the world’s cognac, making it the world’s largest cognac producer. It is owned by Moët Hennessy, which is in turn owned by Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) group (66%) and Diageo (34%).