The eighth-generation representative of the family business, centred on the world's best-selling cognac brand, tells Yvonne Lai about the importance of tradition.
How did you get into the cognac business? 'My ancestor, Richard Hennessy, started the firm in 1765, in the town of Cognac in southwest France. I've lived in this town all my life, surrounded by vineyards. I've always been interested in this industry and the people in it.'
What are your responsibilities? 'I'm a spokesperson for Hennessy. In 1971 we merged with Moet et Chandon and in 1986, we became part of LVMH [Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton]. This means Hennessy is now run by professionals and the business sense of the family is not so necessary. It's only me who works with the firm, and my cousin Giles, who works with Moet. Obviously I'm not running the show, because I'm with you, and someone has to be there over at [the company].
'I speak like Julius Caesar: 'Caesar pontem fecit.' [Caesar built a bridge] when he never touched it - great deeds were done in his time, under his rule, but he had help from many people. I do some things myself, but I work with teams for most things.'
What is your mission in life? 'We mustn't be too grand. As a father, I'm happy to see my children happy. When you become old you become complacent. You realise it takes youth to fight windmills. I know there are horrible things happening in the world; we must make sure they don't happen at home. It's all very well to talk about saving the world, but for me you have also to make sure the people of Cognac sell their cognac.'
What about the future of the Hennessy name? 'The family could be much larger. There are many people who don't wear the name Hennessy because they are descendants from the female side, and there are not that many males, and a lot of the Hennessy men are not married. And so we could be hundreds but we are not. I hope some of my nephews or grandchildren will go back to the old firm and I will have the leisure to train them and teach them things before they get forgotten. Hennessy has a name and a family descendent from the founder, it represents something.
What do you in your spare time? 'I like to cook, read, see my vineyard, and I love my garden. I organise concerts with the musical society in Cognac, of which I am president. I inherited it from my aunt. We have five or six concerts a year. I also run a rowing club - can you imagine? - 200 rowers. I row too, but very badly. You really have to have a taste for suffering to do it well.'
How do you drink cognac? 'Getting drunk is not for me. There are many ways to drink a good cognac. One of my favourites is in a chalice with about an inch of cognac and a little sparkling water.'