In its 150th anniversary yearlong celebration, Bacardi celebrates its tremendous success as the world’s largest privately-held spirits company and the incredible drive and perseverance it took to get there following the illegal confiscation of its assets in Cuba on October 15, 1960 – 52 years ago. While that event was an extraordinary event in the Company’s history after nearly 100 years of being in Cuba, it became a critical turning point to propel the family-owned Company and its namesake Bacardi rum brand to take on a greater international profile. This turned Bacardi into the globally recognized brand it is today. In fact, within 20 years following the loss of the Company’s assets in Cuba, Bacardi rum became the number-one premium distilled spirits brand in the United States. Less than a year after that, it was the number-one selling spirit brand in the world.
“The fact that Bacardi has persevered to become a recognized global brand, as well as a leader in the spirits industry shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who understands both the culture and spirit of the Company,” said Facundo L. Bacardi, Chairman of Bacardi Limited. “Resilience and perseverance are part of our 150-year DNA, not only as a family, but as a company. We’ve survived bankruptcy, rebellions, devastating earthquakes, the U.S. prohibition era, the Cuban Revolution and exile from our homeland, and through it all, we’ve known that nothing can break the indomitable spirit of the family or the spirit enjoyed the world over.”
Quick action in face of adversity
Bacardi proudly proclaims a heritage that is uniquely Cuban, including the honor in 1910 as Cuba’s first multinational company. From humble beginnings in Santiago de Cuba in 1862, Bacardi – the family, Company and brand – succeeded despite tremendous personal and political upheaval in its first 100 years including war, bankruptcy and prohibition.
In fact, the threats by Fulgencio Batista’s government during the 1940s-50s, which included his decision to nationalize Bacardi for one day, propelled Bacardi executives to safeguard the Bacardi rum intellectual property, secret formula and proprietary yeast critical to making Bacardi rum by moving them out of Cuba.
These prescient steps had already been taken when, on October 13, 1960, the new Cuban Revolutionary Government, which had come to power in 1959, approved Law 890 nationalizing all major industries and putting to an end to private property in Cuba. Besides foreign-owned property and entities, nearly 400 Cuban-owned companies, including banks and manufacturing facilities, were also illegally seized.
On October 14, Cuban regime army officers headed to the Bacardi sales office in Havana with a single-page document claiming control of the Cuban company. But the new Cuban government made a critical error, and the repercussions live on in the world of rum today. The officers went to the wrong building and the wrong city of Havana. The Bacardi headquarters and production facility were in Santiago, on the other side of the country. Those responsible for seizing Bacardi had to catch a flight to get to Santiago. This gave Bacardi a 24-hour heads-up to destroy all of their signature yeast, thereby preventing anyone else from ever making Bacardi rum in Cuba.
The following day, on October 15, officials of the revolutionary government showed up at the Bacardi headquarters in Santiago and forced Bacardi executives to sign an “Expropriation Document.” With the stroke of a pen, the Company’s Cuban assets were confiscated and the Bacardi family lost what had taken 98-years to build.
Bacardi already had already established operations in four other markets – the U.S., Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas – and the trademarks and signature yeast were safely out of Cuba before the revolutionary forces took control. Such forethought saved both the Company and rum brand.
Because of their foresight and quick action, what might have been a devastating loss for Bacardi actually enabled them to remain family-owned and regroup to become the third largest international spirits company selling globally recognized and iconic brands and labels in more than 150 countries. Bacardi rum in turn earned the titles of the top-selling and most awarded rum in the world, as well as the world’s most awarded spirit with nearly 600 awards for taste, quality and innovation.