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EP: 45 – A Conversation with John McCusker

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John McCusker

Introduction: John McCusker is the VP Global Head of Talent management for Bacardi. He sees himself as the fitness coach for 7300 colleagues or as Bacardi says cousins, to help people grow professionally and personally. John has spent most of his career in talent management working for Kraft Foods and Dixons in the UK. John has travelled extensively and has picked up a fluency in Spanish, Portuguese and French. He believes himself to be a reforming Imposter and this part of his being has informed much of John’s purpose.

Show Notes

Podcast episode summary:  In this episode John explored the Bacardi approach to Leadership, Culture and Team & Individual development. We discussed formal and informal approaches to development at Bacardi. John spoke to the many who have influenced him and some of the more dynamic practices he has employed to get at Creativity and Innovation and organisational wide buy-in. We discussed topics like Mindfulness, Presence, Conversational excellence,  creating moments that matter, Psychological Safety, Authentic Leadership, Emotional Intelligence & relational support. Bacardi is intent on creating a culture based on three curated pillars; Fearless, Founders and Family. Bacardi wants to be a catalyst for magical moments in peoples lives.


Points made through the episode:

  • Travel has been a big part of John’s life-learning French, Portuguese and Spanish along the way.
  • His parents exercised a huge influence on the choice of career that has become his passion
  • John confessed to suffering from Imposter Syndrome. A huge part of his way was in pleasing people and not being conscious about what he wanted.
  • This being has influenced how he is towards others and the purpose he has set himself to help more people plan and unlock their own potential both professionally and personally.
  • At Bacardi John is the self- professed “fitness coach” Bacardi knows that if it wants to have the next best 10 years it needs to engage its people and culture to be the very best.
  • John has done his own personal work to acknowledge the imposter within him and to understand & appreciate his own emotions in a way that helps him manage conflict constructively
  • John is endeavouring to build a culture at Bacardi where people feel appreciated for who they are, and not what they “should” be in order to unlock potential and performance
  • Bacardi encourages Coaching, Team Coaching and Development to help people work collaboratively and across boundaries rather than towards a title.
  • Bacardi has employed concepts like Hackathons to unleash energy and commitment to company-wide ideas – doing so has improved company engagement scores by 10%
  • Bacardi wants culture to be owned by everyone and not just a few
  • As a Talent Manager John has learnt to appreciate being less attached or attracted to Avant- Garde ideas & more focused on execution & simplicity
  • He is also keen to slow down and to allow the organisation to really implement well
  • When John thinks team he thinks the following; Laughter, Cohesion, Irreverence, tightness to support each other professionally and personally
  • We spoke about Patrick Lencioni and the work he has created around the 5 dysfunctions of teams. John uses the corollary of the dysfunctions to engage hearts and minds.
  • John is not keen on labelling or classifying people. He uses models and frameworks lightly and is more interested in the conversation for possibility
  • Amy Edmondson introduced the Bacardi Leaders, 50 who were on a bespoke leadership program to Authentic Leadership. She spoke about creating a fearless organisation. He liked how she spoke about framing work for people ,so they understand what is expected and how to create a culture where mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn
  • We are so busy being busy that even though we are extremely connected we are disconnected. How can we build the pause to be present to each other?
  • Bacardi is working hard to be relevant in a society where people are interested in drinking less but drinking quality drinks. The company is doing a lot to self-regulate. It is promoting slow drinking in France, Drink Driving campaigns in Russia and Portugal.
  • The Cocktail business is growing by virtue of people wanting less but better.
  • Bacardi is also moving into the business of no and low alcohol
  • What matters now to John is the idea of promoting mental wellbeing at Bacardi. He was taken by a presentation given by a former Unilever executive, Jeff McDonald who spoke passionately about encouraging discourse on mental wellbeing at work.


Resources: the following include the resources we alluded to over the course of our conversation


  1. Amy Edmondson: The Fearless Organisation
  2. The GOT Podcast episode 25 with Sarah Hill
  3. Patrick Lencioni: The 5 dysfunctions of a Team

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