Syl Saller is retiring from Diageo after more than 20 years at the owner of Smirnoff and Guinness, the last seven as chief marketing and innovation officer.
Saller will step down on 1 July and focus on leadership development, executive coaching and non-executive roles.
Diageo has promoted Cristina Diezhandino, currently global category director for Scotch and managing director for Diageo’s luxury division Reserve, to succeed Saller, with the altered title of chief marketing officer.
Originally from the US, Saller joined the then-relatively new Diageo in 1999 after an early career at Procter & Gamble, photo-album-maker Holson Burnes and Allied Domecq, which later became part of Diageo rival Pernod Ricard. Initially Diageo's UK marketing director, she was promoted to global innovation director in 2004 and her current role in 2013.
Saller said her choice to leave Diageo was "one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made".
She added: "Diageo is the most incredible company, with people who are talented, committed and passionate. My goal is to go out into the world and develop more of those people. I am very proud of what I’m leaving behind – a strong function that is committed to getting better by learning and growing themselves."
Saller was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s 2020 honours list for services to business and equality. She has been president of The Marketing Society since 2016 and has overseen the development of the organisation’s "Brave" agenda, alongside outgoing chief executive Gemma Greaves.
At the start of 2019, she signed Diageo up as the exclusive sponsor of #CreativeComeback, the Creative Equals' UK scheme to support women returning to work after a career break. It was later extended to the US and India.
Diezhandino joined Diageo in 2006, having previously worked at Unilever and Allied Domecq. She has held a series of marketing leadership roles in the company’s brands, categories and global regions, and was appointed to her current role in 2017.
She said: "Diageo’s purpose of ‘celebrating life every day, everywhere’ is very meaningful to me. Our business celebrates the special moments we all relish and the occasions, big or small. Our iconic brands are cherished across the world and our marketing community truly aims to be at the forefront of our industry."
Diageo chief executive Ivan Menezes commented: "Syl has always held herself and colleagues to the highest standards while showing great empathy for our people and their success.
"Cristina has consistently shown herself to be a widely respected and resilient leader, able to build high-performing teams across geographies and businesses, and I look forward to continued brand growth under her leadership."