Career and Jobs

How AB InBev’s CEO Transition Highlights The Need For Different Types Of CEOs In Different Situations

Carlos Brito built AB InBev into the world’s biggest brewer over the past 15 years. Now, at age 61, he’s handing the reigns over to Michel Doukeris. In the words of InBev chair, Martin Barrington, “Doukeris’ expertise in brands, consumers and innovation meant the 48-year-old was ideally suited for the company’s next phase.” Different phases, different situations, different types of leaders.

Some leaders are more commercially focused, driving customer impact and revenue growth. Others are better suited to enhancing operational rigor and accountability. Still others build foundations, strengthening capabilities and enablers like people, infrastructure, systems & processes, balance sheets & cash flows, potentially through mergers and acquisitions.

Brito fell into that third camp as a master building. Starting with Brazil’s AmBev, he merged with or acquired Belgium’s Interbrew, Anheuser-Busch, Mexico’s Grupo Medelo, and SAB Miller among others. Together, they formed the foundation of the world’s largest brewer. It’s a remarkable accomplishment by the right leader at the right time.

But his time is done. Growing from here requires the expertise in brands, consumers and innovation that Doukeris brings to the party. Good for AB InBev’s board for making that change happen.

Boards and CEOs

One of, if not the most important responsibilities of a board of directors is the selection of a CEO. Picking the right CEO for the current context is crucial. Then it’s important to prepare for CEO succession, especially as the situation changes.

  • If your future is going to be design or innovation led, your CEO should be the Chief Enablement Officer, giving your designers the space they need to innovate.
  • If your future is going to be production led, your CEO should be the Chief Enforcement Officer, ensuring all follow the policies in place.
  • If your future is going to be distribution led, your CEO should be the Chief Enrollment Officer, bringing in partners across your eco-system.
  • If your future is going to be service led, your CEO should be the Chief Experience Officer, giving your service providers the bounded authority they need to delight customer.

Look at Barrington’s words. Brito was hugely successful in building the foundation. Now AB InBev needs to turn its attention to “brands, consumers and innovation.” Hence the need for a commercially-focused, Chief Enablement Officer.

Leader vs Team

Generalists know less and less about more and more until they eventually know nothing about everything. Specialists know more and more about less and less until they eventually know everything about nothing.

Both are useless in the extreme.

Your CEO should be a general manager with some expertise. Your CEO doesn’t have to have all the strengths required for success. Others on the team will have complementary strengths. But your CEO should have the strengths and mindset required to lead your most important areas.

Transitioning

Crafting and timing CEO transitions is somewhat of an art. There is not a single guidance for when to complement your CEO and when to replace them. Each situation and each CEO is different. Think through when to:

  • Support the existing CEO without changes
  • Support the existing CEO, by adding people with complementary strengths – particularly on foundation-building or commercial, artistic, scientific, or interpersonal – either working for the CEO, with the CEO, or with the CEO working for them.
  • Replace the CEO

The #1 regret experienced leaders have is not moving fast enough on people. This is true for boards and CEOs as well. Know when it’s time to move and move. Further, boards play advisory roles and governance roles. Give your CEO all the support and advice you can, until it’s time to pull out your governance card and make a change, either by adding people or replacing the CEO.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #704) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.

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