The SAB growth journey – what a ride!

As of today SAB Miller is no longer an independent company, following the completion of the acquisition by AB Imbev. So, it seemed a good time to reflect on the growth journey the company has taken. SAB is a rare example of successfully not only buying businesses, but then adding value to them. Just check out some of these stunning statistics, comparing current values to when the business was listed on the London stock exchange back in 1999:
– Market Value today (paid by AB Imbev) = £79 billion vs. £3.4 billion
– Sales volume today = 331 million HL vs. 53 million 
– Profit today = $4.1 billion vs. $0.8 billion 

I've been lucky enough to work with SAB Miller quite a lot over the last 20 years, initially doing portfolio and positioning projects with Added Value in the 1990's as they bought local breweries in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Russia and Romania. More recently, I've worked on multiple brands in South Africa and Peru with the brandgym, including helping "turbo charge" a total of 35 brand plans. 

Here I share here a few personal thoughts on what they done so well:

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1. Expertise in developing markets

SAB's strong footprint in developing markets, such as Russia and China, is a huge advantage, as these are the markets generating profitable growth. However, doing business successfully in these sorts of places is tough. There is often a lack of resources and infrastructure that many marketers take for granted, such as market share data, quality agency talent and mass market distribution.

SAB has learnt the hard way how to market in tough places, through experience in African markets like Nigeria. South Africans are also resilient and brave by nature; its in their cultural DNA! I saw this first hand when the devaluation crisis hit Russia in the late 90's, bang in the middle of a major project I was leading for Added Value there. The South African MD made a rousing speech to us. "We've been in markets that have suffered from famine, drought and civil war," he said. "We have never pulled out. And we're not pulling out here."

2. Proven model for adding value

SAB developed an effective model for adding value to the new businesses it bought. The key tools and processes were captured in an "SAB Way". And this approach was then rolled this out around the world. This combined 2 key things:

– Ship in expertise in product to up quality and cut costs. SAB really master the art and science of brewing, and were able to quickly up the quality of the local beers by applying this expertise, especially in terms of consistentcy

– Portfolio and positioning: a thorough programme of qual and quant research was the foundation to then create a portflio strategy, to give a clear role to each local brand. This was followed by work to clearly pin down the positioning for each brand, and then use this to develop a better mix

3. Conistent, strong leadership

SAB is one of only a handful of public companies that have had the same CEO for over 10 years, in the shape of Graham Mackay. He led the business from 1999 London listing through to his untimely death from a brain tumour in 2013. His length of tenure meant that he not only bought the businesses, he then stuck around. This means he and his team have a huge motivation to ensure the successful integration and improvement of the acquisitions. Beyond Graham, many other senior managers worked in SAB for 10, 15, 20 years or more, meaning an incredible amount of consistency and long term working relationship.

I've loved working with SAB over the last two decades and in a small way being part of their incredible transformation. Good luck to all the SAB team as the new company starts a new future tomorrow.