Magazine article Marketing

Profile: Diplomat of Drink - Jean Coussins Chief Executive, the Portman Group

Magazine article Marketing

Profile: Diplomat of Drink - Jean Coussins Chief Executive, the Portman Group

Article excerpt

The drinks industry is under the microscope, with both the media and government watching closely to see if it steps out of line. The latest rash of binge-drinking stories and political soundbites has meant that the self-regulatory role of drinks industry watchdog The Portman Group has become tougher than ever.

Industry watchdogs are run by people with experience of the area they oversee. It may be unwritten but it is still the rule, which makes Jean Coussins an interesting exception. The 53-year old chief executive of The Portman Group has a prestigious CV that tells of an unlikely background for the role.

It is a good job, then, that the job is an equally unusual one. The Portman Group is funded primarily by the UK's eight biggest alcohol companies. It is a funding arrangement that sceptics of self-regulation must find a delightfully soft target. Coussins' lack of experience on the commercial side of the drinks business provides a useful counterbalance of objectivity, allowing her to command the respect of the industry and officialdom alike.

She has an undisguised passion for developing a code of practice for the industry. In her office, there is a cupboard containing all of the brands that have come a cropper at her hands, including some of those at the forefront of the alcopop revolution, including Hooch.

Being funded by the organisations whose activities Coussins is seeking to curb is a potential minefield. But her high-level political connections, which she has garnered over 30 years of working for NGOs and include trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt and former chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality Lord Ouseley, have left her well-versed in diplomacy.

Maurice Doyle, commercial director of Portman Group member Bacardi-Martini, describes Coussins as 'a good person to have around; incredibly personable, articulate and well-balanced'.

Coussins' career began at the United Nations, followed by the National Council for Civil Liberties. The former found her dealing with major international events such as the coup in Chile in 1973, while the latter involved work on early test cases. Her next role, at the Child Poverty Action Group, included work on child nutrition 20 years before it became tabloid fodder. …

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