By Harry Keaney
At a stage in life when many people grapple with something they call mid-life crisis, 40-year-old Tim Kelly is in career cruise. On April 27, he began a new job in the U.S. as president the Guinness Import Company, having previously been based in Dublin as marketing director for Guinness Ireland. Now, as he settles into his ninth floor office perched above the corporate city center of Stamford, Conn., Kelly is overlooking a $300 million business.
With his Irish roots and a cosmopolitan, even exotic, personal background, Kelly is, in a way, the personification of the modern-day Guinness company.
He was born in 1957 in Moscow, where his father worked for the British foreign office. When he was 2, the family moved to Singapore, and later to the Bahamas. Then it was on to Australia, and back to Britain, where he was educated in Catholic boarding school and at Oratory School in Berkshire.
In 1979, he graduated from Warwick University with degrees in philosophy and politics.
After a year of traveling and having fun, he started work for Penguin Books in London. While there, he realized he liked marketing but not book publishing.
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“I felt publishing was not the place to be if I was interested in a marketing career,” he said. “First, the price is fixed, and the contents of a book are given to you. Usually, in industry, you go to the market with what it wants. A Coke bottle, for example, is dictated by what the market wants. You are also dealing with authors’ egos, the authors dictate the contents. And, at that time, all books were sold on a sale or return basis, which is very low risk.”
Kelly subsequently joined Unilever, a company he described as “outstanding, particularly for young marketing people.”
“I stayed there for four years, I did a variety of jobs, brand marketing jobs, and I learned a lot of very vigorous marketing,” he said.
At the end of 1986, he joined CCSB, Coca-Cola/Schweppes Beverages, and soon became Coke’s brand manager in London.
In 1989, he became marketing controller for all Cadbury Schweppes and Coca Cola brands, in 1996 he was appointed sales director and, in 1992, marketing director.
In March 1995, he moved to Dublin as marketing director for Guinness Ireland.
“I think Guinness is a wonderful company, I like drinking Guinness, I like pubs, and it struck me that here was a genuine global brand to which I could contribute a lot and learn a lot from,” Kelly said. “The company is international and I felt it could give me an international career. Also, I found the people themselves in Guinness to be very genuine. And, I lived in London for eight years, I wanted to try something new and Dublin was, and is, a hot place to go to.”
Now he hopes to double U.S. sales of Guinness products – Guinness, non-alcoholic Kaliber, Harp lager, Red Stripe, Bass Ale, Pilsner Urquell, Dragon Stout, Woodpecker and Strongbow ciders – to 40 million cases in three years, half of this being Guinness itself, making Guinness Imports the leading U.S. drinks importer.
Meanwhile, as he settles into his new job here, Kelly is also preparing for the arrival from Dublin of his pregnant wife, Tamsin, a television producer for RTE’s leading current affairs television program, “Primetime,” and their two children, Rosie, 5, and Felix, 2.
Eventually, they may get time for the theater, perhaps a few sets of tennis, maybe even a day’s sailing on Long Island Sound.
The Guinness Import Company is by far the biggest of the four divisions of Guinness Americas & Caribbean. The overall parent company, the headquarters of which is in Park Royal in London, recently merged with another London-headquartered company, Grand Metropolitan, in a mega deal worth more than $20 billion. A new entity, called United Distillers and Vintners, together with Burger King, Guinness and Pillsbury, make up Diageo, the world’s largest liquor company, which also has interests in restaurants, food processing, and a host of other businesses.
It’s a long way from Guinness’ 1759 beginnings in St. James Gate in Dublin, but, says Kelly, the “home and the heart of the brand is in Ireland.”