Paul Ricard, born in 1909 in the Sainte-Marthe district of Marseille and co-founder of the Pernod-Ricard Group, had a fascinating life, and next time you have a glass of the world famous anis spirit or one of the many other prestigious brands of this Group (such as Mumm, Martell, Perrier-Jouët, or Absolut) you will know a little about the man.
Paul Ricard had had always wanted to be an artist but it was while he was at art school and working for his father who was a wine merchant, that his life took a different direction. Everyone in Provence at that time had their own pastis recipe and Ricard’s own version of anis, liquorice and herbs would make him a millionaire by the age of 23.
Life in Provence was a good life until the Vichy government prohibited all anis-based alcohol, so Ricard turned his skills to agriculture (rice) and livestock, risking all to take his employees to his property in the Camargue to save them from being sent to Germany as forced labour.
At the end of the war, Ricard returned to his home town of Sainte-Marthe to resume making pastis, identified by the colours of yellow and blue (the symbols of sun and sky). He was somewhat visionary with respect to working conditions and his staff were provided with such benefits as flexible working hours, profit sharing and retirement savings. On travelling to the United States in came across the concept of ‘sponsorship’ and shortly thereafter his colours of yellow and blue began to appear on the vehicles of the Tour de France.
In 1956 problems at the Suez Canal slowed his deliveries, so he decided to deliver his product on camelback. The slogan “The Ricard caravan vanquishes thirst” passed through the Champs-Elysées, Paris, and La Canebière in Marsaille.
In 1958, he hired three trains to take his entire staff to the Vatican to see the newly elected Pope John XXIII, bringing with him a procession of Provençal fife and drum players and Arlésiennes in native Provençal costume riding Camargue horses – a sight which must have been quite remarkable!!
In 1975 Ricard approached his main competitor, Jean Hémard, the founder of Pernod and the Pernod-Ricard Group came into existence, which now has an annual turnover of €8.6 billion.
Ricard died in 1997 but his Paul Ricard Foundation discovers and promotes young talent, while his Oceanographic Institute Paul Ricard on Embiez is internationally renowed for its work on biodiversity. His name also lives on with the Circuit Paul Ricard.
A fascinating man with a fascinating life…..