Bacardi, the spirits group famous for its Bacardi rum, has abruptly parted company with its chief executive after apparent disagreements over a possible $5bn flotation.
George "Chip" Reid, a cigar-chomping Washington lawyer, was the first non-family member to run the Bermuda-based empire, which was founded by Don Facunco Bacardi in Cuba in 1862.
Though the highly secretive company has not issued an official announcement, it is understood that Reuben Rodrigues, Bacardi's chief financial officer, has temporarily taken on the chief executive role while a replacement is found.
Mr Reid was appointed in 1997 and had been pushing for a float for the group, which produces the world's best-selling spirits brand.
Bacardi, which is still controlled by the Bacardi family, held a beauty parade of Wall Street investment banks last Autumn in preparation for a possible float. The IPO would have raised around $1bn and valued the company at around $5bn.
But it scrapped the plans in November with Bacardi's chairman, Manuel Jorge Cutillas, saying: "The desired consensus of our shareholders does not exist at this time." Mr Reid, a larger-than-life character, is believed to have quit as a result of internal conflict over the issue.
Mr Reid has been credited for modernising Bacardi's complicated shareholding structure. He developed a method by which shares in the privately held company could be traded, thereby giving family members a means of realising the value of their holdings.
There are 400 or so Bacardi family members, all of whom have varying stakes in the business. About 40 now work for the company. "But every member of the family thinks he owns the business," according to Mr Cutillas, the great grandson of Don Barcardi, who invented the secret recipe for the group's trademark white rum.
Bacardi has been linked with Allied Domecq, the British spirits group. It made an uncharacteristically bold move two years ago when it paid Diageo £1.1bn for two brands, Bombay Sapphire gin and Dewar's scotch.
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