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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Thinking beyond beer

When Michel Doukeris took charge of AB InBev several weeks ago, he could not have had bigger shoes to fill.

During Carlos Brito’s previous 15 years as CEO, not only did he mastermind more than $200 billion in takeovers, he transformed the company from Latin American regional brewer to the world’s largest beer company. Whereas Brito’s beer empire was largely built through buying up rivals and stripping costs, Doukeris faces an altogether different challenge.

Amid changing tastes, he’ll need to innovate in a sector where today, more than 60 percent of growth is driven outside of beer.

While there were rumours last year suggesting AB InBev was eyeing external candidates to replace Brito, Doukeris was always the standout choice internally. The company veteran was instrumental in steering the brewer into premium beverages and the popular hard seltzer category now sweeping the world. He also developed its craft portfolio and transformed Michelob Ultra, its higher-priced, low-calorie beer into the fastest-growing beer brand in the US.

Doukeris said: “Throughout my career at AB InBev, I have had the privilege to lead our business in different regions of the world and to work alongside the industry’s most talented and passionate colleagues every step of the way. I look forward to bringing a fresh perspective that builds on our consumer-first mindset and drives innovation and transformation in this next exciting stage.”

Doukeris has spent more than half of his life with AB InBev. During that time, the much-travelled Brazilian has become its go-to man for building brands and digital sales.

Having joined the company in 1996, he progressed from its Brazilian brewer AmBev’s soft drinks arm in 2010 to lead the China business as President – where he almost doubled sales. He followed that with a promotion to Zone President, Asia Pacific in 2012, where he led the region for four years. Between 2016-2017, Doukeris held the role of Global Chief Sales Officer of AB InBev, moving on to become CEO of its North America division in 2018.

With an ability to think outside of the box, Doukeris is credited, on a company profile, as having developed and implemented the company’s first direct-to-consumer e-commerce platform in more than 20 markets worldwide, resulting in stronger customer interaction, top-line growth, and reduced costs. He also generated more than $1 billion in revenue through the group’s  “Beyond Beer” category which includes its hard seltzers, canned wines and canned cocktails.  It is this division that Doukeris will be looking to expand as he kick-starts the company’s next phase of organic growth.

AB InBev Board Chairman Martin Barrington said after a “rigorous and robust selection process”, the Board was in no doubt that it had found the right leader to take the company forward. “He has a proven track record in innovation, multi-category brand building in beer and adjacencies, consumer insight, and expanding premium brands in both emerging and developed markets.”

Changing of the guard: Carlos Brito (left) and Michel Doukeris

Barrington also reserved special praise for the company’s outbound Chief Executive. “Among his many accomplishments, Brito was the architect who led and built AB InBev into the world’s leading beer company and a leading global consumer packaged goods company by masterfully integrating the many businesses that comprise AB InBev today,” he said.

“The Board thanks Brito for his dedicated service, passion, caring and commitment to making our company dream big and delivering.”

Brito, himself, said he was departing, after 32 years,  with no regrets. “We have to pass on the baton to a new generation, otherwise they’ll go elsewhere,” he said during a recent interview with The Financial Times, adding: “If the CEO stays forever, the machine doesn’t work.”

He went on to describe the man replacing him as “an embodiment” of the AB InBev culture, adding: “He’s very competent; he’s better than me.”




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