Born and raised in Kenya, educated in the United Kingdom and a former Royal Marine Commando, Damian McKinney has been a permanent resident of Barbados for over 14-years.
Having founded his consultancy company, McKinney Rogers, in 1999, Damian has undertaken multiple successful business transformations around the world, predominantly in the alcoholic beverages sector. After selling his business in 2017, he maintained links with the industry by investing in and accepting the Chairmanship of Cockspur Rum. More recently, in late 2020, Damian McKinney was appointed Global CEO of the internationally acclaimed Stoli Group.
My ﬁrst experience of Barbados was between 1988-90, while serving with the military. I loved the place from day one and deeply regretted having to leave at the end of my tour of duty. Fortunately, some years later, by which point I was living in New York with a family and a thriving business, I made the smart decision to return for a holiday. It was a wonderful trip down memory lane and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. While here, my daughter Charlotte announced just prior to her 18th birthday that she wanted to become a Barbados Citizen. In full agreement, I launched a rush job to get it done. The really pivotal moment came when she then asked, ‘Can we live here?’. Well, apparently, we had all been thinking along those same lines. In no time at all the decision was made and within a year we were calling Barbados home.
As soon as we settled into our new house, I brought our senior McKinney Rogers staﬀ to Barbados and started running our operations from an oﬃce on the property. The island has excellent telecoms capacity, so it was easy to keep connected with our employees and clients around the world via video conferencing. Initially, I felt a little apprehensive about how people might react when they discovered I was operating out of Barbados, but that was unfounded. Most people said they wished they could be here too. Plus, crucially, we didn’t miss a beat in terms of eﬃciency, so our clients were happy. And that positive scenario continued uninterrupted until I sold the company in 2017.
At that point I really didn’t need to launch any new business, so I started relaxing and enjoying life a bit more. Then, out of the blue, I got a call from the owner and founder of the Stoli Group, asking for my thoughts on how to transform his company. Little did I know that midway through our second 1-hour phone call, I would be oﬀered the position of Stoli Global CEO. Taking on a major responsibility like that was the furthest thing from my mind, but I was immediately tempted.
Along with their broader ultra-premium portfolio, which is second to none in the industry, Stoli is a brand I have admired for many years. So I saw this as a wonderful conﬂuence of a fantastic opportunity meeting a moment in my life when I was free to accept it. In many ways the oﬀer was impossible to turn down, except that Stoli is headquartered in Luxembourg. My instant reaction was to say I’d love to take the job but couldn’t possibly leave Barbados. Thankfully, we agreed to ﬁnd a way to make that work.
As with McKinney Rogers, I set up a virtual global team. On my second day, I spoke with all the Stoli leaders from around the world via a Zoom meeting. It was the ﬁrst occasion they had all spoken to each other for many years. Barbados isn’t just about rum, sea, sand and sun. With its modern infrastructure and extensive ﬁbre optic cable networks, the island is as good as many international business centres. In fact, Barbados is now considered a strong candidate to become the new Stoli HQ.
The reality is I am transforming Stoli while dressed in a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt, sat at my desk at home in Barbados. But there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact it oﬀers a lot of pluses, so I don’t hide anything. Where I am located or what I am wearing does not aﬀect company standards or discipline. And it certainly doesn’t aﬀect my performance – except in a positive way.
Following a distinguished military career and a successful period as an entrepreneur, this unexpected opportunity to run Stoli has put a capstone on my life. Some people might enjoy the status, but for me it’s all about the excitement of the challenge. And it’s all the better for being based at my own home. Mucking out the turkeys is a great way to keep yourself grounded.
After enjoying fourteen good years in Barbados, as a logical conclusion to the direction my life has taken me, I have applied for Barbadian Citizenship. Coming here is undoubtedly one of the best decisions I ever made.