In the U.S. when you’re part of a storied business family, no one blinks an eye when you sign up to star in a reality show or turn into the kind of tragic partygoer whom tabloids love to hate. It’s the newfangled version of the American dream.
But if you’re European and a whole deal more ambitious, you may instead take the route 33-year-old Marc De Kuyper did when he decided he wanted a high-ranking position in his family’s 11-generation-old distillery business in the Netherlands.
That was all fine and good with his clan, but De Kuyper Royal Distillers, a company founded in 1695 that sells 70 million bottles annually in more than 135 countries, is not a place where nepotism is a given.
“The road is actually tougher when you’re part of the family,” says De Kuyper, who had already tackled senior roles in some of the biggest companies in his home country (Verizon and ABN AMRO Bank among them) before joining his kin. “I had about 15 steps to complete before they decided to hire me.”
It’s obvious he stepped up to the plate each and every time. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be the president of Royal Dutch Distillers, the Miami-based subsidiary of the parent company, which opened a year ago when De Kuyper moved here to oversee the U.S. re-launch of Mandarine Napoléon, a mandarin cognac liqueur originally concocted for Emperor Bonaparte by his doctor, Antoine-François de Fourcroy.
Like everything De Kuyper Royal Distillers does, the process to resurrect the storied cordial was nothing if not thorough. “We spent two years with universities in France and the Netherlands studying Napoleon to reposition this brand,” says De Kuyper.
The schooling paid off. Before the De Kuypers took over Mandarine Napoléon, sales for the product were unimpressive due to years of brand neglect. Since their acquisition, however, sales of the spirit this side of the pond have tripled. Of course, Mandarine’s versatility (“It goes well with everything from margaritas to cosmopolitans,” says De Kuyper) and Americans’ embrace of cocktail culture have certainly helped. “To me, mixology is really an American term,” adds De Kuyper. “Europeans generally like ‘gin and juice’—something with one base spirit and one mixer. Americans are the ones who lead the market when it comes to inventive drinks.”
Such observations are not based on business acumen alone. The De Kuyper heir has been known to make the South Beach nightlife rounds in the name of market research. “A little too much, perhaps,” he quips. “But I really love being the brand’s ambassador.”