Edward Shirley is the pres­i­dent and CEO of Bac­ardi Lim­ited, the world’s largest pri­vately owned spirits com­pany. But when it comes to his building upon the family-​​owned company’s more than 150 years of suc­cess, he knows who’s the boss.

The con­sumer should be the single center of our focus,” said Shirley, who joined Bac­ardi two years ago after a 33-​​year career at the Gillette Com­pany and Procter & Gamble Co. “Whether it’s razor blades or rum, suc­cess is about meeting and exceeding the expec­ta­tions of the consumer.”

Shirley dis­cussed the prin­ci­ples of good busi­ness as the keynote speaker on Wednesday at North­eastern University’s CEO Break­fast Forum. Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun hosts the series, in which leading CEOs share their exper­tise with audi­ences of other CEOs and senior exec­u­tives from the Greater Boston area.

In his opening remarks, Aoun cited family-​​owned busi­nesses as cen­tral to the U.S. economy’s growth, noting the research being con­ducted at Northeastern’s Center for Family Busi­ness in the D’Amore-McKim School of Busi­ness, a mem­ber­ship orga­ni­za­tion that pro­vides edu­ca­tion, net­working oppor­tu­ni­ties, and sup­port to busi­ness families.

President Joseph E. Aoun, right, greets Edward Shirley, president and CEO of Bacardi Limited, at the CEO Breakfast Forum on Wednesday.

Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun, right, greets Edward Shirley, pres­i­dent and CEO of Bac­ardi Lim­ited, at the CEO Break­fast Forum on Wednesday.

Shirley, for his part, recounted his journey to joining Bac­ardi, dis­cussed the brand’s mar­keting cam­paigns, and empha­sized the impor­tance of con­necting with the consumer.

His cor­po­rate career began imme­di­ately after col­lege, he said, when he took a job as an inven­tory accoun­tant at Gillette. Over time, he moved up the ranks, learning all the steps to run­ning a suc­cessful busi­ness along the way. In 2005, Gillette was acquired by P&G, whose global port­folio includes a variety of beauty, grooming, and house­hold prod­ucts. Now at Bac­ardi, the global port­folio of which com­prises more than 200 brands and labels including Bac­ardi rum, Grey Goose vodka, and Dewar’s Scotch whisky, Shirley has spent his entire career deter­mined to under­stand and con­nect with consumers.

Over the years, Shirley said he’s received invalu­able feed­back from observing and engaging con­sumers where they live and shop, noting that people don’t always report their true habits in mar­keting sur­veys. He said sat­is­fying con­sumers’ func­tional needs isn’t enough, adding that the key to suc­cess is “com­bining con­sumer insights with supe­rior product per­for­mance and strong brands that build con­sumers’ trust.”

In 2012, Shirley moved from P&G to Bac­ardi, having been drawn by the company’s rich his­tory of busi­ness savvy and per­se­ver­ance, which traces back to 1862 when the Bac­ardi family pur­chased a dis­tillery in Cuba. He noted that he was inspired to help build the strategy to posi­tion Bac­ardi for con­tinued suc­cess for another 150 years.

To that end, Bac­ardi is moving for­ward with a range of new mar­keting cam­paigns. In par­tic­ular, Shirley noted that in today’s dig­i­tized society, mil­len­nials are faced with an onslaught of adver­tising from all angles; tap­ping into their craving for brand authen­ticity and strong con­nec­tion to their com­mu­ni­ties, he said, will be cru­cial to future success.

During a Q-​​and-​​A ses­sion fol­lowing his talk, Shirley fielded queries on a range of topics. When Aoun asked what traits he looks for in job can­di­dates, Shirley pointed to attrib­utes such as pas­sion for the posi­tion, the ability to work col­lab­o­ra­tively, and bringing a pos­i­tive atti­tude to the job each day.

Another person sub­mitted a ques­tion via Twitter about how the pro­lif­er­a­tion of social media is affecting sales and mar­keting. Shirley said plat­forms such as Twitter, Face­book, and Insta­gram have flipped the tra­di­tional busi­ness model on its head. “It’s about sur­rounding the con­sumer 360 degrees,” he said. “If we’re not present either where con­sumers are engaged with or want to talk about the brand, then we’re going to be left behind.”

It’s not good enough to be ‘liked,’” he con­tinued. “If you don’t estab­lish a rela­tion­ship or con­ver­sa­tion, you won’t get any insights on what they like or don’t like about it.”