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The Queen of Champagne

There’s no stopping the bold and bubbly Margareth Henriquez, CEO of Krug Champagne, from taking the heritage-rich brand to new heights.

Venezuelan Margareth Henriquez, or Maggie as she is fondly known, is one of the first women to head a major champagne house. As president and CEO of The House of Krug since 2009, she’s used her talents and tech experience to steer the brand into the 21st century, spreading their message to a new generation of champagne drinkers.

The Harvard graduate has introduced various technology and innovations, including the Krug ID, stamped on every of the house’s bottles, which provides information on authenticity and production, plus suggestions for music pairing when scanned via an app.

We caught up with the charismatic and bubbly business leader while she was in town to introduce Krug’s Les Creations de 2004, the newest vintage to be released. Here she talks about how she made it to the top, and her ambitious plans for the future.

How has your engineering experience shaped you in this role as the CEO of a champagne house?
I was a system engineer. I graduated in the 1970s when companies had to store things into systems – from accounting to logistics. To build the procedures is to transform the processes into a computerised model. This means I had to know the details very well. Your brain has to know the structure at the macro level.

So from 1978 to 1986, I learnt how to build such detailed practices. Thereafter, everything was the same. Companies can vary in size but building the systems is the same. Then when I moved into the commercial side, working for a wine and spirits distributor, I understood all the processes and knew the right questions to ask. So I always understood people’s work because I started from the basics. I knew how much work it took and this has allowed me to always value the work and time of all my employees as a leader.

I think the engineer’s background has always stuck with me because I like structure and precision. You always have to structure your thinking, from general to detail. You prioritise, learn how to communicate and facilitate and understand people and technology. So even though I am not a social media expert, I know that the easiest way to get information to people is through digital technology and the Internet.

How are women changing the champagne industry?
Increasingly, you do see more women in winemaking but surprisingly also in the whisky industry, in blending and the creation. Women are the main consumers of champagne anyway so they definitely are driving the change. Femininity is a main commitment of this House.

Joseph Krug wrote the founding principles of the House of Krug for posterity in his deep cherry-red notebook. What is your favourite quote from him?
My favourite quote from Joseph is when he said: “It is not possible to make good wine except from good elements. One may obtain a blend of good appearance with mediocre element and growths, but these are exceptions: one can never rely on them.” I think these lessons applies to everything in life.

He always said: “You cannot make good champagne if you do not assess every element individually. They have to be all of high quality or you do not use it.” And this applies to life.

Will you write a book? What will it be about?
I’ve actually been writing my thesis for a PHD in business since 2008. I’ve asked for numerous extensions and I have to finish this in the next two years. It’s going to be about managing crisis. After I get my PHD, then will I have time to write my book. I think it’s going to be about my life and sharing my experiences and so many things I have learnt in life.

With the House rich in ideals and traditions, how do you innovate and bring it into the future?
It is very important that the good traditions of the house are kept. But I believe that to be traditional in the behaviours and being set in your ways mean you are going to get old fast. It is important that you stick to your values but then the way you connect with the world and understand it has to constantly evolve since that is the way the world is. So this is what we do for the brand, we evolve to be better. If you do not connect to the technology and the Internet, your business will die. Today you have to communicate differently.

How important is the Asian market for Krug?
Very. Japan is the first market. Now we are developing Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea. We haven’t really touched the Chinese market. We are more shy with the big market because I am afraid that without having the development to really embrace the brand as it is, it can end up creating a disruption that will end up really hurting your brand in the long term. This is why I always take a conservative approach to emerging markets. It’s always easier in stable markets like Singapore.