Text by Benjamin James
Everyone hopes to make a mark of their finite time on this earth. More ambitious people like the late marketing genius Steve Jobs took it one step further when he famously said that he wanted to “make a dent in the universe”.
But what if you find yourself put in the position of a custodian of something that has already achieved greatness beyond what men can do, with a history that transcends generations?
Sitting in his office in Bukit Bintang, with a commanding view of the glitzy Kuala Lumpur skyline, Patrick Madendjian, Managing Director of Moët Hennessy Diageo (MHD) Malaysia & Singapore is squarely in the position to answer that question.
“I think just by handing over the brand in a better position than it was when you took it, that’s already a phenomenal success,” Madendjian said.
Established in 1970, MHD Moët Hennessy Diageo Malaysia has in its portfolio an unrivalled collection of quality and luxury wines and spirits from both Moët and Hennessy, which includes Hennessy, Dom Pérignon, Krug, Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, among others.
Moët and Hennessy – the M and H in LVMH – in his eyes transcend the content of the bottle that bears their name and instead live in a higher plane of existence as parts of our collective culture, a point that Madendjian repeats time and time again.
“We don’t see ourselves as a cognac brand. Hennessy is beyond cognac,” he said when asked about how the brand competes with its competitors.
“There are brands that are purely marketed, and then there are brands that become part of the culture.”
Being part of this culture gives Hennessy relevance across generations and resilience to the changing nature of trends and fashion.
This can be seen in how the 258-year-old brand – “older than the United States of America” as pointed out by Medendjian – is able to transcend from its beginnings as the go-to after-dinner drink in the courts of kings to the VIP tables at the hottest clubs of the 21st century.
As someone proud of his marketing background, and repeatedly calling himself a marketer, Madendjian emphasised that what they do at Hennessy goes beyond marketing. “Marketing is you pay an agency, you buy someone’s endorsement. This is not the way Hennessy does it,” he said.
Instead, Hennessy genuinely contributes to culture by being part of it and this pulls others to want to work with them to have a seat at the table.
When hip hop rose to be the popular music genre of this generation, it took Hennessy along with it on its way up, with the likes of Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, Drake, Lupe Fiasco and much more singing about Hennessy in their popular songs, without the brand having to spend a single cent.
In fact, it could easily take a person over three hours just to listen to them all.
“This is what some brands could only dream of,” Madendjian said. “It’s genuine, it’s present. It doesn’t force its way in.”
Thankful for the artists who find Hennessy a good fit with the culture that they are trying to promote, Madendjian is not resting on his laurels and banking on the brand’s established name to pay dividends and is instead following the footsteps of previous custodians of the label in actively cultivating it.
In the last six months alone has been busy, with Hennessy having collaborated with the NBA over their VS, VSOP and Paradis brands. They also collaborated with Lang Lang and Alicia Keys on Paradis, as well as a 50 years of hip hop celebration with NAS in the US a couple of months ago.
A Rich Heritage
This realisation of the strength of the brand came to Madendjian when he was headhunted by LVMH some 15 years ago, when he was with Giorgio Armani – “selling perfumes” as he put it.
“I did not know what Hennessy was,” Madendjian said.
“Growing up in Lebanon, cognac is not something common in that part of the world.”
Not shy about his late introduction to the maison, Madendjian, like any good marketer, dived deep into the brand’s history and emerged enthralled by its history and how entrenched it is with culture.
“I realised that there’s so much I did not know about this brand, about how contemporary it was, even though it was basically older than the USA as a country,” Medendjian beamed.
“I said yes, I joined and then 15 years later, here I am.”
Since saying yes to the job, Moët and Hennessy have taken Madendjian around the globe, from Mexico City to Cape Town South Africa, before finding his way to Asia, having worked in Manila and Ho Chi Minh City before finding himself in the two most exciting cities on the southernmost tip of the continent.
In Malaysia, he found a market that is becoming more and more sophisticated with consumers who now have higher expectations on the products they spend their money on.
“All of these things are exciting because they keep us on our toes,” he said.
When asked to name his favourite bottle, the sharply dressed French-Lebanese man appears visibly struggled, reacting like a father being asked to pick a favourite child.
“Hennessy Paradis, is for me… a marvel. It’s an absolute gem,” he said after a short pensive pause.
Created in 1979 as a tribute to symphonic music, the bottle speaks of Hennessy’s unique heritage of keeping the secrets of its cellars – containing the largest collection of eau de vie in the world – held by one single family over the generations.
“You don’t buy things, you grow them and you take the time because time is always in the equation of Hennessy,” Medendjian said.
“We can create cognacs that no one else can create.”