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The ABInBev acquisition of SABMiller

Lessons in Leadership – a presentation by Priyal Ramdass

When AB Inbev merged with SABMiller in 2016 the $100 billion deal created the biggest fast-moving consumer goods company on the planet.  The merging of two strong cultures was (and still is) an interesting journey, and Priyal Ramdass, Organisational Development Specialist for the new company, shared 6 leadership lessons with the Talenttalks conference-goers.

Eight months into the merger, Priyal described the transition as “interesting, challenging, daunting, overwhelming and exciting.”  She likened it to going to bed one night and facing a whole new reality when waking up the next morning.

She used the image of a 6-pack of beer, joking about the corny methaphor, to clarify what she has learnt in the process.

  • Know who you are – If you are defined by which company you work for, a major transition like this is bound to create panic. Now that the company no longer exists (SABMiller ceased as an entity in October 2016) she saw leadership asking questions like “why am I here, what is my purpose?”  Leaders needed to spend time reflecting on their own identities, and clarify what their expectations were before they could take their teams along with them.
  • Willingness to see things differently – It took courage to be willing to make the change. A lot of people in SABMiller had high tenure (20, 30 and 40 years were not uncommon) and a lot of current jobs didn’t exist in the new company.  Leaders had to let go of structures and job descriptions that no longer served a purpose.  Priyal’s advice was to persevere and be patient, get up the mountain one step at a time, but enjoy the journey.
  • Take action – Because of the long time that it took to finalise the deal, a lot of people were left “in limbo”. Because of the strong action-orientated culture in SABMiller, it left leaders feeling uncomfortable.  Priyal mentioned that leaders who considered their team’s biggest challenge at that time, and took action to meet the challenge, were most successful in getting through this uncertain time.
  • Find courage – It took a leap of faith to stay in the new company, and it took a leap of faith to go. Whatever leaders decided, it took courage to sit with the discomfort.  Leaders needed to think about themselves and their teams within the context of this uncertainty.  She mentioned that there was a lot of support throughout the organisation through networks and friendships, and that this helped to build the courage in the organisation.  She made the pertinent point that it took servant-leadership to get through the change.
  • Expect the unexpected – Curiosity and openness were key characteristics that got leaders through the change. Throughout the constant restructure in the organisation (some of it still ongoing), those who would embrace the unexpected were the most successful in navigating the changes.
  • Stand together – Building a community ensured that employees got through the change. People relied on friendships built over years in the organisation to share their thoughts and feelings.  But it was the willingness to make new friends – to embrace people from the new organisation – that set leaders apart.  It was important not to see the new company as the “enemy” but rather as new potential friends.

Priyal ended by saying that just as you exercise your core to build a “6 pack”, these lessons can be used to build your core strength as a leader.

Priyal Ramdass is an organisational leadership development specialist. She is currently following her passion of developing and shaping the leadership of tomorrow. As the head of leadership development center of excellence & internal coach for SABMiller Africa, she has designed many programmes to develop leaders at all levels within the corporate environment. Her vast 18 year organizational experience, background in psychology, expertise in adult learning & development and her insatiable curiosity to learn and grow, guides her understanding of leadership and what is required today to succeed as a leader. Having just transitioned in to the new company Anhauser-Busch Inbev, she sees her new role in the leadership space as a catalyst to support the transition & change through leadership development and excellence.

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