Beer Synergy

When Marcel Telles, now one of the directors on the the board of ABInbev, became the CEO of the Brazilian beer brand Brahma in 1989, he knew very little about beer. He decided he needed a benchmark, a model to go by. He took a tour of the best brewers in the world and found what he was looking for in the headquarters of Anheuser-Busch, in St. Louis, Missouri.

“We flew to St.Louis so many times to learn from the guys there,” said Alberto Cerqueira Lima, former marketing director for AmBev and Brahma.

Lima said that Brahma was a very different company before Telles, one of the top three on the InBev side of the A-B deal, came on board. “You were evaluated according to the way you behaved,” he said. Punctuality, the way you presented yourself at meetings, what you wore to work, that’s what counted in order to keep your job and move up. There were many rules and lots of formality.

“All of a sudden, there comes Marcel Telles in jeans, with a habit of always sitting on the conference tables. He brings a different crowd with him. Some [male executives] even wore pony-tails. A crowd that was very fond of swearing too,” said Lima.

“What really matters from now on is results. If you bring in results you will be compensated. Otherwise, your lifespan in this company will be very short,” Lima recalls Telles saying to the staff.

Telles may have admired Anheuser-Busch’s market vision and the outstanding way they managed their brands, but certainly not their corporate environment. A-B is seen as a very traditional company, in which hierarchy plays an important role and bosses rule from behind closed doors.

It will be interesting to observe how synergy will play out between InBev and Anheuser-Busch now that they are one company.

Watch Marcel Telles’ interview with Don Sull at the London Business School

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