What pubs can learn from the ABInBev/SABMiller deal: What does success mean to you?

By Jessica Mason

- Last updated on GMT

There is disparity between statements from ABInBev and SABMiller
There is disparity between statements from ABInBev and SABMiller

Related tags Sabmiller Molson coors brewing company

There are some incredible parallels between the role pubs play and the reasons great brewers exist.

Pubs are in the business of beer and people. Brewers are in the business of bringing both beer and people together within the pub. But more often we are seeing that the significance of either fade into the background when financial gain and/or expansion are presented as a new reason for existing.

So, we ask: What does success look like to you? Is it fiscal, or is it more about the equitable treatment of the core sum of its parts? Or rather, when does it stop being about beer and people? When does success start being about money and control instead?

Today, ABInBev reached agreement with the board of SABMiller​ over its £68bn takeover and, in terms of ‘what happens next,’ we now know that SABMiller will become part of a Belgian-based holding company for the combined group called Newco.

As part of the deal, SABMiller lets go of its interests in Miller Coors to its partner in the venture, Molson Coors for $12bn. And at this point, Molson Coors imaginably breathes a sigh of relief. Or, as Molson Coors, president and chief executive Mark Hunter put it: “This transaction is the ideal outcome for this business.” Phew. From both sides. If that hadn’t happened then it would have made the bigger deal harder to get through, so it reduces the complexity of the arrangement between ABInBev and SABMiller.

But here’s the interesting part. In the final statements from both sides of ABInBev and SABMiller, the way each company responds to the creation of Newco is very different. There is true disparity between the words they choose to use. I think we can learn rather a lot about each of these companies from this. I also think there are lessons here for all would-be entrepreneurs with a conscience.

From AB InBev’s corner, chief executive Carlos Brito talks of the combined beer company’s “significant growth opportunities” and “enhanced value to the benefit of all stakeholders," also referencing the results of the deal as something that has helped create one of “the world’s leading consumer products companies.”

But, in a final whisper for what kind of company SABMiller was in terms of its credentials, its chief executive Alan Clark tips his hat to the past. To many it will look like a reference to the humble genesis of the company - in the way that we know beer companies have learned to flag up provenance and heritage to score points – but to others more aware of SABMiller’s ethos, it’s little more than a sad missive that laments that this was once about bringing beer to the people who needed it and thanks the people who have been involved in helping along the way.

So here’s that reminder from Clark: “SABMiller grew from small beginnings, brewing quality cold beer for thirsty miners in the dusty streets of 19th century Johannesburg,” and now “more than 120 years later, generations of incredibly talented people have built a highly-admired, high-performing global beer and beverage business.”

It should come as no surprise that he references how SABMiller has “always nurtured the art of brewing” as well as the elements that, as a company, in Clark’s words “made us special” one of those involved in “catering for local tastes and helping build the communities around us.” Just like the pub in many ways. This is Clark’s chance to reinstate how having an understanding of people (and not just business) was as integral to SABMiller’s approach as its love of beer. That is what made it a success in the eyes of so many.

Clark suggests that anyone who has been a part of “the SABMiller story” should view the deal as “a simply amazing achievement,” because they “should feel immensely proud of the value they have helped create.” But I’m almost certain more than a fair few will be feeling nervous and rather than feeling like they are part of a story, more a part of the company’s history - the bit that might get lost on the way to the bank.

There are lessons we can learn from this. The first one is to acknowledge that there is a solid trinity between pubs, breweries and people. Also, when one side of a trinity gets rocked by a big change, it can affect the other sides. To ride out any change​, they may need to remain constant and strong.

In other words: Publicans, as a result of the creation of Newco need to remember to serve the needs and wants of the people in their establishments first and foremost, irrespective of supplier changes, deals, or anything else.

Indeed, while shareholders may grow richer elsewhere, every licensee needs to remember why, in their own ​terms, success isn’t always measured by the weight of the wallet.

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