Australia: Beer giant Lion looking for new CEO
Beer giant Lion is on the hunt for a new chief executive after Stuart Irvine signalled he would be stepping down after eight years at the helm of the company which owns beer brands Tooheys, XXXX Gold, West End and James Boag, The Australian Financial Review reported on May 14.
The company has slimmed down after the A$560 million sale of its Lion Dairy & Drinks milk and yoghurt operations to Vegemite owner Bega Cheese, which was finalised earlier this year. That gave Bega big brands such as Dairy Farmers, Yoplait, Big M, Masters and Farmers Union.
Mr Irvine said it was the right time to start the process for a transition to a new boss at Lion to oversee the next leg of the companys strategy after a busy few years.
That included the acquisition of a Colorado-based craft beer company, New Belgium Brewing in 2019 to fire up growth as the mainstream beer market across the industry kept declining.
Lion chairman Rod Eddington said Mr Irvine had been a strong leader through a time of unprecedented change across the food and beverage sectors.
Lion is owned by Japanese brewing conglomerate Kirin Corp, which completed a full takeover of the company in 2009.
After eight years, now is the right time for me to hand the baton to a new leader, Mr Irvine said. He joined Lion from global consumer goods company Nestle, where he had been head of the Russian and Eurasian operations.
The Lion board has begun a global search for a new chief executive, which will take a few months to complete. Mr Irvine will stay at the helm while that process continues.
A new chief executive faces a tough road as the company tries to reinvigorate a declining market in mainstream beer sales. Lion has expanded into the fast-growing gin market under Mr Irvines watch, with the acquisition of a half-share in Four Pillars Gin in 2019.
Mr Irvine also presided over the difficult decision last year to shut down the historic West End brewery in South Australia and shift production of that beer to the eastern states.
The West End brewery, in the inner-west suburb of Thebarton in Adelaide, will close this year.
Bega Cheese had a stroke of luck last year which enabled it to make a late play for the Lion Dairy & Drinks division when federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg rejected a proposed $600 million acquisition of the business by Chinese company China Mengniu Dairy, during rising geopolitical tensions between Australia and China.
The headline price of A$560 million for Lion Dairy & Drinks included A$26 million of IT separation costs, which brings the net price tag down to A$534 million.
Both of Australias big beer companies are Japanese-owned, with Carlton & United Breweries, maker of Victoria Bitter, Carlton Draught and Crown Lager, being acquired by Asahi for A$16 billion last year.
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