Diddy cracks the Fortune Global 500

Dec 05, 0001
Larry Schwartz, president of Diageo North America, with Diddy.


FORTUNE -- Sean “Diddy” Combs has just upped his bona fides as a businessman.

Today the rapper-producer-entrepreneur and the liquor giant Diageo announced a new 50-50 joint venture that has acquired DeLeón, a luxury tequila brand. “Today is a big day for me as a businessman,” Combs tells Fortune. “This is the first company I’ve ever bought.”

This is the second partnership for Combs and Diageo. The two first teamed up in 2007, using Combs’s brand power in a wildly successful (and continuing) effort to promote Cîroc vodkas.

Combs was instrumental in bringing the high-priced and exclusive tequila to Diageo’s attention after he kept seeing DeLeón in places such as the SoHo House and The Supper Club. When he saw the tequila make a cameo in Iron Man 2, he knew it was a sign and eventually brought the idea to Diageo.

Says Combs: “I’m the curator of cool, and I say that most humbly and as modestly—that’s what I search for every day. [DeLeón] fits into what I do because it’s luxury. It’s liquid luxury.”

This is only the latest business venture for Combs outside the music industry. He recently launched a television network, Revolt TV, and has a fragrance and clothing company.

For Diageo, the move is part of its efforts to rebuild its tequila business after a deal to buy Jose Cuervo from its private owner fell through in 2012. At the time, Diageo had been distributing Jose Cuervo, the No. 1 U.S. tequila brand, since 1986.  “This won’t be the last move, but it’s certainly a great start,” says Larry Schwartz, president of Diageo North America. Diageo is No. 1 in 10 spirits categories in the U.S. and wants to add the top spot in tequila to the list.

Schwartz and Combs first met in 2007 when Combs had an introductory meeting at Diageo’s office. At first Schwartz encouraged Combs to develop his own line of vodka. But Combs was already a fan of Diageo’s Cîroc. It was then selling about 50,000 cases a year, and Combs said he could get it to 2 million. Schwartz thought the number was crazy. But Diddy became the face of the drink, appearing in TV and print ads, and sure enough Cîroc eventually reached the goal. “What happened on Cîroc just doesn’t happen,” Schwartz says.

Combs says he’s unlikely to become the embodiment of DeLeón. “This brand doesn’t have a face,” he says. “It has a feeling to it.” The marketing will try to stress that there’s a process and quality to the tequila, he says, that it’s for sipping, not for shots. “There’s an art to it,” he says. “It’s not just some booze.”

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