First impressions last

Stéphanie Durroux, the new CEO of The Absolut Company since August 2020.

It has now been three months since Stéphanie Durroux took over as CEO for The Absolut Company. We had the opportunity to sit down and talk to her about her international background, motivations and experience of the Swedish local food and beverage industry – which she is now such an important part of.

The Absolut Company has the motto Passion for Progression, which sort of acts as a halo for fostering and retaining an innovative company culture. What’s your take on this?

– I think that our Passion for Progression-value rings very true. I was amazed when I realize how important this actually is for everyone working here. Progression is about what we do – developing new products, refining new tastes and conceptualizing new formats. But it is also very much about how we do that. To me, innovation is as much about how you do things as what you do. Take our sustainability work as an example: Our Åhus plant is one of the best in the world when it comes to sustainability. And this is all due to us – as a company – being super innovative and working with the entire value chain to ensure consistency in all aspects of our production and distribution. There is so much effort going into designing processes that minimize the amount of waste produced. And I think that we’ve been able to reach this position because this has been a priority of ours for so many years. To me, this is just another proof of the kind of innovative spirit that’s found within the company. Before I started here, I thought some of the claims were just on the surface, but now I know we have all the hard facts to back our claims.

What’s your background before joining The Absolut Company?

– I started my career in a totally different business, working with marketing for Hachette Publications in France, where I was part of the book division. My dream was always to work with marketing for a company in the cultural sector. Books and movies were, and still are, two of my greatest passions. From there I moved on to Michelin Travel Publications. When I applied for the job there, I thought it was to do marketing for their printed maps, food & travel guides, but it turned out the position was for the digital side of their business. This was back in 1999 and you have to remember that the online business models were quite different then compared to now. We worked really hard to come up with new ways to adapt the content to the digital world, which was a challenge. Google maps didn’t exist, smartphones weren’t actually that smart and people were still relying on printed maps when travelling by car. And I just loved the challenge and the reward it brought when we found new solutions on how to get people to convert. So, I stayed there for five years before moving to China with my family. And that’s when I first joined Pernod Ricard and that I have been a part of ever since.

You’ve had quite a long international career, having – as you mentioned – been posted in China and in Paris previously. And now you’re based here in Stockholm since a few years: what has been the most fun and challenging in your career so far?

You’ve had quite a long international career, having – as you mentioned – been posted in China and in Paris previously. And now you’re based here in Stockholm since a few years: what has been the most fun and challenging in your career so far?

– When I moved to China with my husband, who got a job there, I immediately started to look for a job. I had the chance to get an initial short-term marketing mission at Pernod Ricard in China. This was my first time in the spirits business and just from the start, I was super fascinated by how much of the marketing of alcohol has to do with sociology and culture. Usage and attitudes towards alcohol are very different in China and in France, of course. Food and drinks are such an important part of our respective cultures – not only what you eat and drink, but also the way to do it, and the meaning behind theses traditions. In China, what you buy offers you a possibility to express something about yourself to a much greater extent than in France – at least when it comes to Western spirits. And to get into this mindset and understand this culture was a bit of a challenge for me at the beginning.

What’s most important to you in your job?

– To find a true meaning every day. And by that, I don’t mean a new one every day. But I think that you have to go to work every day knowing what you do and why you do it. We’re here to develop the company and the brands in our portfolio, but the responsibility we put behind this work is almost idealistic. And that’s important to me. Being part of The Absolut Company, as an example, to me also means that I’m part of something that is bigger than just me. And this makes me proud of what I do. Without that, I wouldn’t feel as motivated. 

At The Absolut Company, a lot of effort is put into elevating and supporting the Swedish food sector as a whole. What’s your outside perspective on the current status of the Swedish cuisine?

– I honestly have to say that I very much like the Swedish culinary scene. All-together, living in Sweden has so far been nothing but a great experience. And, believe it or not, I actually still haven’t had any really bad food experiences. I’m a bit surprised about the high level of Swedish chefs and food and I’ve had many great food experiences. I’m not an outspoken vegetarian, but I don’t have a big taste for meat. Sweden is a country with fantastic restaurants with amazing vegetarian options. There is being made some true effort to serve decent food that’s meat free. 

What has been the most challenging dish you’ve been served here in Sweden? Is it something from our own unique flavor palate, such as fermented herring (surströmming), licorice, caviar or kebabpizza?

– Neither of the above actually. I honestly have to say that I like Swedish “kaviar”, it’s great. I even have some at home. The same goes for licorice. It’s also found in France, mainly in sweets, but I recognize the taste and I like it. I have also started to discover excellent Swedish cheeses. I can’t comment on surströmming. It isn’t something I’ve dared to try yet, but it’s on my list. Perhaps not at the top, though.