Sidney Frank – Founder of Grey Goose Vodka

28 Nov

In the years before he died in 2006, Sidney Frank kept seven golf pros on his payroll. He couldn’t play himself–too old to swing a club–so he would accompany them onto the course, six days a week, to observe and critique. Their $50k salaries were often supplemented by spontaneous cash payments for birdies, eagles, and exceptionally good rounds. He was a guy who, despite his age, liked to stay involved and in control.

Lord knows he could afford to. In 1996 he dreamed up a “super-premium” vodka to compete with Absolut, Stoli, and others, named it Grey Goose, and sold it to Bacardi eight years later for $2 billion. The brand’s secret? French water and a higher price tag. The sale made his 180 employees incredibly wealthy (even secretaries received $250k checks) and turned Frank’s story into spirit industry lore. I can only imagine the golf payout the next morning.

Grey Goose wasn’t Frank’s first venture. In the 70’s he spotted German immigrants in New York drinking Jagermeister, the dark licorice flavored liqueur, and purchased the U.S. import rights. Sales were lackluster until, ten years later, a bunch of LSU students were quoted in a Baton Rouge Atlantic article suggesting the drink was an aphrodisiac. Frank jumped on the story, assembling a team of “Jagerettes” to hand out copies of the article and running some memorable billboard ads that played on its strong (is that the word?) flavor.

Jagermeister...so smoothFrank’s promotional tactics worked. A drink that was once used as a field anaesthetic by doctors in World War II, that on a good day is an acquired taste, had become a rallying cry to partygoers everywhere.

The rise of Grey Goose was equally impressive. Vodka is by definition a flavorless, odorless liquid that is more than half water. Frank used premium pricing to stand out: Grey Goose was twice as much as other vodkas. The smoked glass bottle, French origin, and filtered spring water added to it’s exclusive image. And then, shortly after launch, the characters on Sex and the City made a point to order Grey Goose cosmos. Game over.

Even after the Grey Goose sale, at age 84, he wouldn’t stop working. He died mid-flight from San Diego to Vancouver while promoting latest product: premium tequila. But when asked to give career advice to students at Brown University (his alma mater), he offered this token of honesty: “Marry a rich girl. It’s easier to marry a million than make a million.” Amen.

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