Resilient growth requires the best people. That insight led Carlos Brito, former CEO of Anheuser-Busch InBev, to build the biggest beer company on the planet.
nheuser-Busch InBev is the largest beer company in the world, with $46.8 billion in 2020 revenue. Its globe-spanning footprint is the result of a more-than-10-year worldwide expansion conceived and overseen by former CEO Carlos Brito. His distinctive strategy reflects a deep-seated conviction that giving employees opportunities to thrive is central to Anheuser-Busch InBev’s resilience.
Brito recognized that to produce sustainable, long-term growth, Anheuser-Busch InBev would need to improve its ability to retain the best talent. That meant giving employees more, and better, paths to enrich their own careers without leaving the company, which in turn required larger, more-global operations. “A company is simply a group of people working together,” Brito says. “What differentiates one company from another is the quality of the people and how engaged they are. We expanded so we’d be an attractive place for people to come develop their careers and their lives, so they would stay here for the long term.”
In 2004, AmBev merged with the Netherlands’ Interbrew (becoming InBev). They purchased America’s Anheuser-Busch (becoming Anheuser-Busch InBev) in 2008 and acquired the multinational SABMiller in 2016. As the company expanded across the world, Brito focused on establishing a consistent set of values, embodied in Anheuser-Busch InBev’s 10 Principles—precepts such as “We are never completely satisfied with our results,” “The consumer is our boss,” and “We never take shortcuts.”
“To go from a one-country footprint to a global footprint, you need to have a set of values that are ingrained within the company,” Brito says. “As you go more places, it will be harder for you to have oversight of everything. You need to have a core set of principles that will guide people through decisions.”
We built the whole company around the idea that people are the only sustainable competitive advantage you have.
As Anheuser-Busch InBev expanded to support its employees, it focused more and more on its consumers, zeroing in on a brand’s place within the local culture. “You need a deep understanding of consumers and their preferences,” says Sam Johnson, Americas vice chair, accounts, EY. “This is something that Anheuser-Busch InBev does extremely well. What happens in this part of the world may not happen in another.”
“There are many examples of big food companies buying local brands and expanding them into the mass market in ways that cause the brands to fall out of favor,” adds Kathy Gramling, consumer industry and consumer packaged goods sector leader for EY Americas. “Anheuser-Busch InBev didn’t do that—they consistently scale up a product only when it makes sense.”
As it expanded, Anheuser-Busch InBev sought a partner to help execute on Brito’s vision. EY was proud to play a key role. “What Anheuser-Busch InBev understands is that true shareholder value can only be driven with the pursuit of long-term value, not through financially engineered quarterly returns,” Gramling says. “We take these concepts and build pragmatic ways of working—explaining how data can be leveraged between trading partners, how analytics and AI can drive shareholder return, and how stakeholders—your employees, ecosystem partners and consumers—are a key component to achieving long-term value.”
This effort requires an ability to manage great complexity. Yet it rests on a deceptively simple premise. “We built the whole company around the idea that people are the only sustainable competitive advantage you have,” Brito says. “And very talented people is really the way to go.”
This is part of Leadership in Action — a master class series featuring prominent CEOs highlighting the decisive moment where bold decision-making has made a material impact on their company and career.