(News Source: www.miamitimesonline.com) – By Billionaires Row officially became the only majority Black-owned Champagne brand in the world.When Jay-Z sold 50% of the luxury Champagne brand Ace of Spades,
With a valuation of approximately $600 million across all of its brands, which include Champagne, a signature cognac, clothing and other goods – the luxury lifestyle company is on track to becoming one of the most recognizable Black-owned conglomerates, according to co-founders William Benson and Patrick Ductant.
“We like to look at ourselves as a legacy brand, and we want to leave a mark in history,” Ductant added. “From a hospitality perspective, our mission statement is to inspire others.”
Benson, 36, was born in Delaware and raised in a small town in North Carolina. Ductant, 34, is a native son of Miami.
Both men come from humble beginnings, sons of single mothers who adopted a hustle mentality at an early age. The two also dropped out of college to pursue entrepreneurship in their early twenties. Benson moved to New York and worked his way up on Wall Street, becoming head of relations for a hedge fund. Ductant became a real estate investor, buying his first property at age 23.
“When we first met, it was like we were blood brothers,” Ductant said. “I think that we just understood each other’s struggle, being young African American entrepreneurs at heart, having similar stories of being raised without a father, and both wanting to carve something great out for ourselves.”
The friends have nicknamed themselves “Scotty and Jordan,” a reference to basketball legends Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan, who together won six consecutive championships playing for the Chicago Bulls.
In 2012, a few years after they met, Benson noticed the lack of diversity within the spirits industry and boldly decided he wanted to own a Champagne brand.
“I had people tell me, ‘You’re Black, you can’t own a Champagne company,’” he recalled. “But our culture, we consume a lot of alcohol and we indulge in luxury just like anybody else. We need a voice in business.”
An impromptu trip to France, a meeting with the owners of Champagne Dumenil (an independent Champagne house) and an unspecified initial investment later, and Benson owned the rights to Billionaires Row staple Brut Rosé Champagne.
The entrepreneur was also able to get the brand recognized by the French government as a “Champagne” proper. Sparkling wines made from grapes in the Champagne region of France are the only products allowed to be labeled as such.
Benson is the only American to land that approval for ownership and branding. He calls it a “true honor” and is grateful to the French government for believing in his vision.
“I really wanted to step out on a leap of faith to become an entrepreneur,” he said. “Even though I was really fearful, I took that risk and it looks like it’s paying off.”
After laying the groundwork for the company and launching the Champagne in several markets, Ductant joined Benson at Billionaires Row in 2018, making good on their long-ago promise to join forces in business. The partners trademarked the name “Billionaires Row” and began expanding into other industries, making the company what it is today.
LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, commonly known as LVMH, is a French multinational corporation and conglomerate specializing in luxury goods, headquartered in Paris.
“One of the things we talk about by ourselves is the pressure we feel,” Ductant shared. “It’s just not about us. You know, it’s about everyone that looks like us that wants to forge their own path.”
Although the responsibility of being the only Black-owned Champagne brand can be overwhelming, Benson and Ductant say seeing how far they’ve come has been the most rewarding part of the experience.
“I think our short term goals are really clear. We want to be disruptive,” Benson said. “[Long term,] we want to be able to allow people from all over the world to experience what we’re doing.”