Edwin “Eddy” Nielsen oversaw Bacardi’s rising star in the 1970s and 1980s and played a key part in preparing the company for expansion. Admired for his devotion to his staff, Nielsen believed that each employee should be treated like family.
The great-grandson of Don Facundo Bacardí Massó, Nielsen was born in Santiago de Cuba, but raised and educated in the United States. A highly decorated veteran, he served with distinction in World War II and received the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Victory Medal, and the European Campaign.
After the war, he was a cattle rancher in Cuba until the government confiscated his ranch. Nielsen fled Cuba in 1960 and began working for Bacardi Mexico in 1960 as an assistant manager. A promotion in 1963 sent him to the United States as vice president of operations of Bacardi Imports. He later became president, playing a key role in helping Bacardi recover from the Cuban government’s devastating seizure of company assets in 1960.
As Bacardi chief executive Pepín Bosch prepared to retire in 1975, he felt hiring a trained manager would serve the company better than following Bacardi tradition of promoting family members. Nielsen, who was Bosch’s wife’s nephew, encouraged family members to resist Bosch’s recruitment idea, and they responded unanimously. Upon Bosch’s retirement in 1977, Nielsen became chairman and CEO of Bacardi.
In 1978, Nielsen addressed one of the company’s biggest challenges by creating International Trademark Consultants, or INTRAC, in order to coordinate the five international Bacardi companies. At the time, Puerto Rico had the most impressive rum distillery and sold most of its product to the United States. Mexico operated its own distilleries in-house. Bacardi International Bermuda owned distilleries all over the world and oversaw rum sales everywhere but Mexico and the United States. Most complicated of all, Bacardi & Company based in Nassau owned the company trademark, with rights to collect tariffs from the other companies for its use. Nielsen viewed the lack of central authority as a problem for Bacardi that would hinder its growth. INTRAC set the stage for later consolidation carried out by Nielsen’s successor, Manuel Cutillas.
Sales skyrocketed 70% between 1976 and 1979 as consumer tastes turned from whisky to rum and vodka. Rum and Coke and other BACARDI cocktails proved extremely popular during this time. Once the 1980s hit, however, consumers got on a health kick and moderated alcohol consumption. Nielsen began to look to diversifying Bacardi’s products in order to compete globally.
Nielsen found an ally in Manuel Cutillas, another expansion proponent, and the two began to prepare Bacardi to compete with bigger and more diversified companies. While they were unable to overcome family opposition to diversification during Nielsen’s tenure, Cutillas built on the groundwork Nielsen laid down in order to begin expansion in the 1990s.
BACARDI rum grew to the number one premium spirits brand in the world under Nielsen’s tenure. His actions paved the way for Bacardi to enter the 21st century as a world leader in spirits production.