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CASTLE MALTING NEWS in partnership with www.e-malt.com French
28 February, 2021

Brewing news World: AB InBev’s North America president Michel Doukeris emerges as front-runner to succeed CEO Carlos Brito - sources

Anheuser-Busch InBev’s North America president, Michel Doukeris, has emerged as the front-runner to succeed Chief Executive Officer Carlos Brito at the helm of the Budweiser brewer, according to people familiar with the matter, Bloomberg reported on February 26.

The board aims to announce a leadership change in the coming weeks before the company’s annual general meeting in April, said the people, who asked not to be named discussing internal succession planning. A final decision hasn’t been made, but the latest plan would elevate Doukeris to the CEO position later this year after a transition period, the people said.

A representative for AB InBev declined to comment.

The handover would mark the end of an almost two-decade reign during which Brito built AB InBev through a flurry of acquisitions to ultimately brew about a third of the world’s beer. For the majority of his career, Brito, 60, was celebrated for delivering profit growth out of markets that were either flat or in decline in much of the developed world. However, a stubborn debt load proved to be difficult to reduce after AB InBev agreed to pay more than $100 billion for SABMiller Plc in 2016.

Doukeris joined AB InBev in 1996 and rose to lead its business in China, a key growth engine, before helming the Asia-Pacific business and then becoming chief of sales. He now runs the Stella Artois maker’s most important region and the source of almost a third of the company’s sales.

In each of his roles, the 47-year-old executive championed product innovation -- including Bud Light seltzer, which went on sale last year -- and marketing investment behind staple brands such as Budweiser. Under his leadership, sales at the North America division increased for the first time in six years.

Doukeris is Brazilian, like a number of other top executives and major shareholders, including billionaire investor Jorge Paulo Lemann.

AB InBev last year engaged executive search firm Spencer Stuart to review external candidates, the Financial Times reported. However, the board considers that an internal executive is better suited to face the challenges and responsibilities that will come with leading a turnaround while maintaining the brewer’s corporate culture, the people said.

Brito’s tenure at AB InBev has been a tale of two parts. Between 2005 and 2016, he tripled the company’s market value, swallowing up rivals such as Anheuser-Busch to gain the Budweiser brand and generating significant profitability from a sector with meager sales growth prospects through dispassionate cost-cutting.

The turning point in the CEO’s career was 2016, the year Brito led the acquisition of SABMiller, then its largest rival. That purchase proved a stretch, as a slowdown in sales growth hurt AB InBev’s ambition to reduce the debt load it had accumulated. Net borrowings exceeded $100 billion for three consecutive years.

To reduce the load, Brito sold a stake in AB InBev’s Asian business, one of the brewer’s fastest-growing markets. An initial attempt failed in mid-2019, but the company eventually pulled it off at the end of the year, just before markets went into a tailspin due to the pandemic and bar closures hurt AB InBev’s prospects. Beforehand, AB InBev also sold brands including Foster’s in Australia for about $11 billion.

Since 2016, AB InBev’s market value has been cut almost in half, and the debt load still stood at $83 billion at the end of December. The share price fell a further 6% Thursday after AB InBev reported that earnings plunged 13% in 2020 - the first significant drop under Brito, who was denied his bonus.

On Friday, February 26 the shares fell an additional 4.9%.


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