Bob's Gutsy Leadership Blog

Four Leadership Lessons from the “Brewmaster of the Universe”!

In 2008 when InBev, the global beer giant, acquired Anheuser-Busch, literally the king of beers in the USA, there was real skepticism about the ability of the merged organization to be financially viable.  The task of putting these two together was huge, given that the new organization had two of everything and the culture of Anheuser-Busch was so strong.

The CEO of the newly formed Anheuser-Busch InBev, commonly called AB InBev, was and still is Carlos Brito.  He immediately tackled the task of smoothly integrating some 200 beer brands from around the globe into a unified AB InBev organization.  Here are the primary tools he used:

1.) Clarity and Simplicity – Carlos Brito made the vision simple and crystal clear: the best profit margins in the industry and the largest market share in every region.   He required that this vision be translated by every organization in AB InBev into a set of goals and strategies that helped the company to achieve its vision, and a set of measures not only for each organization but each employee.

2.) Transparency – Each organization posted publically the goals and strategies they were pursuing, and most importantly, the measures and their progress by month.  Posting the measures publically made it very clear that the value system was: excellence, speed and transparency.

3.) Implications – For individuals who don’t meet their targets, there are implications: a poor performance review and a salary hit, with removal from the job, and possibly the company, if improvement isn’t registered.

4.) Enthusiasm – Brito and the other top managers are amazingly accessible.  They sit at open desks in the middle of the corporate office complex.  On the other hand, the majority of the time they are visiting the troops, calling on people at all levels, asking how things are going and seeking progress reports.  Two days after the signing of the Anheuser-Busch deal, he was at the AB offices in St. Louis, telling the staff of the company’s vision for the merged organization.

So how has Brito done with this gigantic acquisition?  In 2008 prior to the acquisition, InBev had profit before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, commonly called IBITDA profit,  of 31% of revenue; the highest IBITDA profit margin in the industry.  In 2012, AB InBev had an astounding IBITDA profit margin of 39%, the best in the industry, with its main competitor SABMiller at 23%.  The stock is up 150% in the past four years, compared with the S&P’s 68% gain.

In a recent article, Fortune Magazine called Carlos Brito the “Brewmaster of the Universe.”  It looks to be well deserved; clearly we can all learn from this gutsy leader.

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