With her astute understanding of luxury branding and her ability to head companies through turbulent circumstances, Margareth Henríquez stands as CEO at the prestigious House of Krug, the first and only Hispanic ever to direct a Champagne house.
By Graciela Martin
Portraits courtesy of Krug Champagne
Maggie, as she is known to her friends, is a trained Systems Engineer and an Advanced Management Harvard University graduate. But long before even dreaming of obtaining such impressive academic degrees, her impetuous, hardworking character would begin to emerge when, as a little girl, she favoured working in a bookshop to going on vacation, she would also help out wrapping corporate Christmas gifts in her father’s wine and spirits company.
She soon followed in his footsteps when she became president of Seagram (the Canadian distillery company which was known to be one of the largest in the world) in Venezuela with only 35 years of age. And since, her affiliation with the wines and spirits industry has spanned 28 of her 35 years in business. She did a celebrated five-year stint as the head on Nabisco in Mexico before being tapped by luxury conglomerate Moët Hennessy to reconfigure Bodegas Chandon in Argentina, which yielded spectacular results. And for the past six years the Caracas-born executive has been breathing new life into the company Joseph Krug founded well over century and a half ago.
I read that as a young girl you preferred to stay home during the holidays go to Colombia on vacation
It was a different time then. We were allowed to work during vacation and I loved a small job I had in a bookshop. I helped out with book sales and other tasks. The alternative was to go to Colombia to visit my aunts, and it was very boring. I preferred to stay and work, so I had my own money from a young age.
[su_pullquote] “It’s important to understand that you are responsible for yourself, you can’t think others will come and take care of you.” [/su_pullquote]
Do you think learning the value of work from a young age helped forge your character as a businesswoman?
Everything that happens to you in life adds up and eventually influences you. In my case, I learned early on that you need to work to obtain things, you aren’t going to everything just handed to you. That is something my father made established since we were little. This was good, because we were brought up with clear values.
Being a girl who is born into a privileged family doesn’t entitle you to have everything, quite the opposite, in fact. My father would let me work if I wanted to. Towards the end of the year, after school, my sister and I would go to help wrap the Christmas gifts for his Wine & Spirits company. After three months of work we would ask, “daddy aren’t you going to pay us?” he then reached into his pocket and gave us 20 Bolivares each, we could afford to buy a little something with that at the time. All those things forge you. It’s important to understand that you are responsible for yourself, you can’t think others will come and take care of you.
You are a role model for many women today; so, is your father your role model?
Yes, since I was a little girl I’ve had a fantastic image of my father. In fact I followed in his footsteps. I was the only one from the six of us to end up working in the wine and spirits industry as he did. Aside from this he also directed cosmetics and perfume company. I always had great love for my father and a great deal of respect for him. He was very responsible, of extraordinary human quality and incredibly generous. Without a doubt his image has been very important in my professional life.
You’ve been the head of large, well-known companies throughout most of your professional life. How did you manage to balance it with a family?
When I was young I had a less time, but more energy. I have always dedicated a lot of time to my work. Back then, I could have a sleepless night and be fine the next day. I could dedicate a lot to my career because I could pull-off things like that, also because I had great people helping me out. People that were like family and loved my children, that was key. Of course, in Europe that’s different.
What do you love the most about your work?
I’m passionate about my current job. Having had the time and help to explore the roots of this house has allowed us to transform the communication of a marvelous product. I get to contribute to the development, the growth and the evolution of champagne. I love having dedicated time to this. To have a jewel today that I am sure, in time, will add value to the champage region and will ultimately be beneficial to everyone.
What is the most important thing you have taken from each of your work experiences?
Being president of Seagram de Venezuela gave me the opportunity to work in a wonderful company. I was very young still and earning the trust from your boss and colleagues gave me a lot of confidence and made me feel that anything is possible. I have always been very clear about my values. It is very satisfactory to have a behavior that has always been aligned with them.
Mexico was my first international experience. It set the basis of what it was to work in a foreign culture. I realized that to be international it doesn’t suffice to work in an international company, you needed to work outside of your country and prove that you were capable of managing circumstances and organizations in places you’re unfamiliar with. Nabisco had suffered great losses and Mexico was going through the wheat crisis. The company had 3500 people, it was true test of leadership for me. It was a spectacular experience, we did a great job there, in 18 months we were able to turn it around completely and obtain positive numbers. This gave me a great deal of confidence in knowing that you can achieve something if you really want to.
[su_pullquote align=”right”] “Krug was one of the most difficult times of my life because working with luxury was unknown to me.” [/su_pullquote]
Then, at 45 years of age I left for Argentina to work at Chandon. There I was determined to achieve something I thought I hadn’t completely managed to do previously, which was to put together a great working team. On my own, I went to the Center of Creative Leadership and signed up for a course to improve my organizational skills and leadership abilities. My dream was to have a solid, strong and perfectly integrated team, and we managed to do it. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my career. In Argentina, we became one of the top three companies where people wanted to work. During a Chandon company conference I asked everyone to thank each other, because you never do anything by yourself, it’s important to be grateful to others. Our success was the result of great teamwork.
Then Krug was one of the most difficult times of my life because working with luxury was unknown to me. I used to think luxury was just a way of embellishing something. I didn’t have the respect I have for it today. I went there wanting to do what I had always done with great success. A year into the job and I was lost. So, on one hand it was refounding Krug and on the other it was refounding myself. You get to an age where you think you already know, where you have more confidence, and you move forward with that and realize it’s not working so you have to reinvent yourself, and that’s what happened here. I had to learn what luxury was, living it personally and accepting that I’d failed to manage this with the resources I had. It’s actually healthy when this happens after many years of success, it’s a fight of humility, it grounds you.
And what is Luxury for Margareth Henríquez?
The clearest example is Krug. It’s a house that understands its roots, which is fundamental for any luxury house. It’s not a matter of value for money, or a unique selling proposition. Luxury is the creation of a proposition that goes from the inside out, it’s always associated to its origin, to its founder, who saw what was around and wanted to take it a step further. This house is the full incarnation of that, Joseph Krug did that 170 years ago, just like Louis Vuitton, Coco Chanel and Christian Dior did during their respective times. That’s luxury. The difficult part is maintaining that position. This is why innovation is so important for fashion houses. You have to maintain your position through innovation, because others follow. Leaders must continue to guide the way, that’s the responsibility we have today.
This article was originally published in Vanda issue 01.