Nightlife mogul Rande Gerber on doing business with celebrities

Miami hotelier, trophy husband and George Clooney–business partner on the power of great partnerships

Rande Gerber, right, and George Clooney in Venice

Rande Gerber, right, and George Clooney in Venice. (PVS/GC Images/Getty)

Rande Gerber—George Clooney’s business partner in the Casamigos line of tequila—breaks down what makes a celebrity business venture work:

You were once the man behind many of America’s hottest hotels and nightclubs. Now you’re married to Cindy Crawford and run a tequila company with George Clooney. Are you the smartest man in the world or the luckiest?

Ha! I would say the luckiest, no question.

From what I know of Casamigos Tequila’s origin story, it seems the exact opposite of a celebrity slapping his name on a product. How did it happen?

Right. It all started a few years ago, when George and I were both building homes in Mexico, spending a lot of time there and drinking a lot of tequila. We sampled a lot—good, not so good; expensive, not so expensive. It was George who said, why don’t we make our own? We spent about two years working with a distillery to get it exactly right. We named it Casamigos after our property, which translates into “house of friends.” We were giving it to our friends, and they were requesting more. About two years in, the distillery told us they couldn’t possibly categorize 1,000 bottles a year as “samples.” I said, “George, what do you want to do?” and he said, “Well, I definitely want to keep drinking our tequila.” That meant starting a company .

Celebrity branding is such a big business these days. What do you think you guys are doing right that other people are doing wrong?

I think it goes back to our business being totally organic. Our line is “brought to you by those who drink it,” which is the absolute truth. A big name definitely helps raise awareness in the beginning, but consumers are very smart—they can tell when something is authentic and when a celebrity has just slapped their name on something.

What do you think is the secret to a successful business partnership?

You have to know your strengths and your partner’s strengths. I hire really good people—young, passionate, creative people who make us all look better. I run the company, and George will come in with marketing ideas. He’s very interested in business in general. Obviously it’s different to what he’s used to, but he’s truly interested in every aspect.

Do you ever have to pull rank? Like, “Hey, Clooney, you may be the movie star, but I ran a hotel and hospitality empire.”

Ha—no! We’re lucky because we have this great business, but we don’t need it to make ends meet. This is money we can use to support charities and work on projects that we love. It’s work, but it’s really a lot of fun.

You were one of the pioneers of Miami’s South Beach nightlife scene in the 1990s. What have you learned about the elusive cool factor?

It doesn’t matter how much money you have— you can’t buy cool. When I think back to when I was doing bars and restaurants, rather than chasing some other idea of cool, I focused on creating the kinds of places I wanted to hang out in. There’s no real secret. I always made sure my places were conducive to socializing, since that’s why people tend to go out.

What business skill did you acquire as a hotel tycoon that helps you as a booze baron?

Probably effective hiring. At Casamigos we don’t really hire people from the liquor business. We want people who get excited about our brand. We don’t have set office hours, but they all love being there. They’re having margaritas at 5 p.m., the music is playing, they’re coming up with ideas. It is so great to drive by the office at night and see that the lights are on.

What business wisdom did you acquire as a 20-something male model that helps you today?

Oh, wow. I’m not sure if there was too much wisdom there. Modelling was something I did in college so I could travel around in the summers. I guess I learned about the importance of treating people well and building relationships. You never know when you’re going to have to pick up the phone and call someone from a previous period in your life.

Back to tequila. The category is incredibly hot right now. Some have said it is the new scotch, while others say it’s the new vodka. Which is it?

I think because we made it to be a smooth tequila that you sip on the rocks, the comparison to scotch might be more accurate. For a lot of our customers, it’s not even about tequila but specifically about Casamigos. Tequila is one of those things a lot of people have an association with.

Like barfing on spring break.

Right. But with a great tequila, they are really thinking of it totally differently. My wife drinks it straight up—no lime, nothing. And she never gets hangovers.

You were the best man at George Clooney’s wedding last year. Was that an insane experience in terms of the paparazzi?

Actually, not as crazy as you’d think. George and Amal considered every detail and had everything taken care of. It was like being on an extremely well-planned vacation.

And the Casamigos did flow?

Oh, yes, we went through many cases. For three days, everybody was very happy.

I read recently that the Canadian tequila market is expected to rise some 16% over the next three years. Those are huge numbers, right?

That’s fantastic. I love hearing that.

You and your family are honorary Ontarians, are you not?

We have a cottage in Muskoka . We fell in love with the beauty of the area. For us, it’s kind of like summer camp and just a great time to spend with family—fishing, water-skiing, windsurfing.

Also a pretty great place to get bleary-eyed on tequila?

We do have some great dock parties.

Nothing banishes a hangover like jumping in a lake.

And then you’re ready to go again.

Rande Gerber and George Clooney’s Casamigos Blanco and Reposado tequilas are available now at Canadian liquor stores. The newest bottling—a darker, longer aged añejo blend—arrives in Canada later this year.