It’s been a big year for big beer. AB InBev is poised to take over its rival SAB Miller in a $71 billion deal.
The brewer behind Budweiser, Beck’s and Stella Artois is entering a new era as the industry’s leader. But even industry leaders need to respond to changing customer trends. Juan González, an MBA graduate from China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), makes sure AB InBev does just that.
He works as business cycle manager at its Leuven headquarters in Belgium. He thinks that the rise of independent craft brewers represents an opportunity rather than a challenge for big beer groups.
Previously, Juan worked in logistics at multinational engineering and electronics firm Robert Bosch in Madrid.
Tell us something about working at AB InBev that most people wouldn’t know.
Although we’re a very big organization, in many aspects we operate as a start-up. Hierarchy is almost not existent. We sit at big tables in open spaces, call everybody by their first names, and never wear suits.
What advice do you have for MBA students looking to work for AB InBev?
We are a unique company with a very strong culture. We believe in this culture and look for people that fit it.
We do not recruit for particular positions. Instead, we like candidates [who are] willing to take risks, accept challenges and move out of their comfort zones.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at CEIBS?
I had the feeling that my career was slowing down and moving towards a dead end. I had become a specialist, unable to visualize the big picture of the company.
An MBA provides the necessary tools to change career and move to the next level. CEIBS is one of the world’s leading business schools and has a unique program designed to go in-depth into China’s business environment, socioeconomic structure and interactions with the west.
Why do you think MBA students are attracted to China?
The world is changing fast. The bipolar era of the US and the EU acting as the engines fuelling the world’s development is over. Asia is awakening and the Chinese renaissance is already a reality.
In this context, a new professional profile is moving to center stage: someone with broad experience in multinational environments and knowledge of Asian cultures; a facilitator, focused on building bridges between cultures, overcoming linguistic barriers and false, pre-stated ideas.
How have you profited from your MBA experience at CEIBS?
I fully benefited from a top-quality education that allowed me to transition in both industry and function.
I have also grown tremendously from a personal standpoint. Living and working in China is a game-changing experience that will reshape your personality forever.
What challenges does AB InBev face?
We face constant challenges from evolving consumers and new regulation.
Portfolio diversification and customized solutions are key to engage customers and transform beer consumption into an experience that fulfils people’s expectations.
As market leaders, we also have a big social responsibility. In this respect, we work closely with government and local stakeholders to educate consumers and guarantee responsible consumption behaviors.
Is craft beer the next big thing for the beer industry?
No one can deny the attractiveness of this opportunity. Consumer tastes are evolving and craft beers are gaining momentum.