Manuel Jorge Cutillas awoke in Santiago de Cuba on October 14, 1960 to the news that the Cuban government had confiscated all assets belonging to his family’s spirits company. Along with the rest of Cuba, Cutillas had at first been hopeful that the revolution would bring peace and prosperity to follow the previous government’s despotic regime. When gunshots rang out once more shortly after the revolution deposed Batista’s government, it quickly became apparent that the new government was not quite what anyone was expecting.
The great-great-grandson of Don Facundo, Manuel Cutillas was born into privilege in Cuba on March 1, 1932. When he was of age, he studied in the U.S. at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. After earning a bachelor of science from Rensselaer, Cutillas returned to Santiago de Cuba in 1955 and began work in the family business as an assistant distillery superintendent. He married Rosa María Dubois this same year.
When the Cuban government illegally confiscated without compensation the Cuban assets of Bacardi just five years later, Cutillas went to Havana for permission to exit the country. The government merely confiscated his passport in answer. The young man did what many refugees from that regime did during that time period – he boarded a boat and left anyway. Six days and ninety miles of not-so-smooth sailing later, the party landed in Miami.
From Miami, Cutillas eventually made his way with other family members to The Bahamas, the home of Bacardi & Company Limited, the Bacardi flagship office. Cutillas presided over Bacardi & Company Limited, one of Bacardi’s several international offices, from 1977 to 1992. During the early 1990s, vodka and tequila gained market share as Bacardi’s sales fell. Cutillas perceived that if the company as a whole was to compete meaningfully it would have to grow, and to grow it must consolidate.
In 1992, Bacardi’s five international operating units – located in Bermuda, The Bahamas, Puerto Rico, the United States, and Mexico – united to become Bacardi Limited, with Manuel Cutillas as president and chief executive officer. The following year Cutillas pursued a path of portfolio diversification by acquiring Martini & Rossi Group, a multi-branded company including vermouths, wines, cognac, Scotch whisky, and liqueur. This single action doubled Bacardi’s size and catapulted it to a competitive position as the largest privately-held spirits company in the world, and one of the five largest premium spirits companies overall.
Under Cutillas, Bacardi grew from a fragmented company to an agile, market-responsive enterprise. By 1995 BACARDI rum, including light, dark, 151, black reserve, and añejo, became the number one selling distilled spirits brand in the United States. The following year, London’s Financial World magazine identified the BACARDI rum trademark as one of the ten most valuable worldwide. From 1997 to 2000, Cutillas continued to influence Bacardi’s future as Chairman of the Board.
Cutillas was awarded the coveted title of Maestro de Ron (Rum Master), a title only awarded to a handful of family members over the company’s more-than-150-year history. In 2012 he collaborated with eight other family maestros de ron to create a rare BACARDI blend for Bacardi’s 150th anniversary.
Renowned for his can-do and optimistic disposition, Cutillas built consensus among competing factions and steered Bacardi to become the multi-brand global company it is today. His commitment to Bacardi’s “culture of passion, excellence and entrepreneurial spirit” pushed the company to greater heights and made it a marketplace giant.