How The Good Times Ended For Africa’s Largest Brewer

How The Good Times Ended For Africa’s Largest Brewer

By Ann Crotty – Financial Mail

The SA Breweries you knew and loved, which listed on the JSE back in 1897, is no more. After Anheuser-Busch InBev’s $109bn takeover last month, apprehension is stalking the corridors of the SA beer icon. But for new boss Carlos Brito, the numbers will trump all.

A month ago Ricardo Tadeu, the tall Brazilian tasked with leading the 125-year-old SA Breweries after its takeover by Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), stood up in the brewer’s Sandton office to address jittery employees.

As usual, Tadeu was dressed casually in jeans (he almost never wears a tie). But the atmosphere was tense and the volley of questions he faced was predictable.

“Most people wanted to know whether they’d be losing their jobs,” says one person who was there. “They all knew AB InBev’s reputation for cutting costs so they wanted to know whether they had a future.”

The fear was understandable.

AB InBev, the company headquartered in Belgium but controlled by the tight-fisted Brazilian private equity company 3G Capital, is notorious for taking over companies then slashing costs, staff and benefits. Fears were especially piqued since AB InBev had already said it planned to cut 3% of its workforce — 5,500 staff — to save US$1.4bn after the deal.

Its reputation for frugality preceded it. Carlos Brito, AB InBev’s CEO, once boasted that “we all stay in the same place, we all travel the same class — strip down all the status symbols.”

Addressing students last year, he said: “We don’t have corporate jets. I don’t have an office. I share my table with my vice-presidents.”

Even having fun, it seems, isn’t especially encouraged.

By contrast, SABMiller has a corporate jet and its staff were given a monthly beer quota to take home (the sort of benefit that Brito ended at Anheuser-Busch).

The stage was set for a culture clash.

Though he’d only been in SA for a few days, the languid Tadeu (40) was unfazed — as you’d expect from someone with a master’s in law from Harvard.

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