Yellow flames shoot through the center of bourbon barrels as they are being charred in the Brown-Forman cooperage.
Bourbon barrels are charred in the Brown-Forman Cooperage. Brown-Forman awarded top leaders with $5 million worth of stock this week. | Photo by Boris Ladwig

Brown-Forman Co. this week awarded top leaders with nearly 97,000 shares of common stock, worth more than $5 million.

The company awarded the shares based on company performance over a three-year period that ended April 30.

Former CEO Paul Varga received more than 49,000 shares, worth nearly $2.6 million. Chief Financial Officer Jane C. Morreau netted the second-highest totals, with about 11,000 shares and a value of nearly $580,000. Chief Brands Officer Mark McCallum ranked third, with about 8,000 shares, worth about $419,000. CEO Lawson Whiting was fourth, gaining about 6,100 shares, with a value of about $317,000.

A headshot of former Brown-Forman CEO Paul Varga
Paul Varga

The executives also sold some of the shares for tax purposes. In total, the 11 leaders sold nearly 43,000 shares with a combined value of $2.2 million.

During the three-year performance period, the price of the company’s common stock, adjusted for dividends and splits, rose 49%, or about 16.2% per year. During the same period, the S&P 500 gained nearly 42%, or about 13.8% per year.

Brown-Forman awarded stock for align with companies typically tie some of their executive compensation to measures such as stock performance, profit or total shareholder return to provide executives with incentives to act in the company’s long-term interest.

The company reported this week that it produced net sales in the last fiscal year of $3.3 billion, up 2% from a year earlier. Net income, at $835 million, was up 17%. The company achieved those results despite a negative impact of about $125 million because of retaliatory tariffs.

In response to tariffs implemented by the U.S. government, some foreign markets, including the European Union, Canada and China have imposed retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products.

While President Donald Trump has said that the tariffs are needed to pressure foreign governments, particularly China, to abandon some of their business practices that harm U.S. companies overseas, local professors, trade experts and international whiskey distillers have said the tariffs would harm U.S. businesses, their employees, consumers and economic growth.

In an earnings call with investors on Wednesday, Whiting, the Brown-Forman CEO, said that he views the tariffs from the EU “as a targeted campaign right at Brown-Forman, an American business headquartered in Kentucky.”

The EU is placing tariffs on some politically sensitive U.S. products, including bourbon, made in the home state of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., hoping to pressure Congress to persuade the president to reduce or eliminate some of the tariffs the U.S. has placed on imports.

Brown-Forman shares on Wednesday rose 4.5%, to $56. On Thursday, shares closed at  for 55.86, up another 3.3%.

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Boris Ladwig
Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.