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Mauricio Leyva

Talking to SAB’s new MD


Leyva, 43, who took over as the managing director of South African Breweries (SAB) in January this year, is a Colombian who joined the SABMiller group in 2005.

So not only is Leyva not South African, he is not an SABMiller “lifer”. By contrast Norman Adami, the guy Leyva took over from, is not only South African but he spent most of his working life at SAB. That’s the way it used to be at SAB. You joined as a young, ambitious graduate and became part of an elite team that ran a company that dominated the local beer industry.

In recent decades members of this team moved from Johannesburg to conquer the global beer market, or at least the attractive emerging market segment of the global beer market. SAB’s remarkable ability to develop executive talent was a key factor in its unique success on the global stage.

There was a familiarity and collegiality among the top team led by Graham Mackay, Malcolm Wyman and Meyer Kahn. Everyone knew what was expected of them as they strove for global dominance. By comparison the other dual-listed South African companies seemed uncertain about their people and their strategies and tended to wilt on the international stage.

But, long before it became apparent to the outside world, things began to change. In the early years of 2000, the pace of growth and acquisition meant it was increasingly difficult for the South African “mothership” to supply the necessary numbers of SAB-trained executives. But by now companies that had been acquired by SAB during the 1990s were producing their own executives who had been trained in the SABMiller “manufacturing way”, which was all about “world class manufacturing” and “continuous improvement”.

Such has been the extent of the change that Leyva seems a little surprised that anyone has noticed he’s not South African. He reminds me that an Italian is running SABMiller’s operation in India, a Guatemalan is running Italy, a Brit is running Europe, a Canadian is running Panama and a South African is running Colombia.

“This is a truly multinational company,” said Leyva, who described his move from Peru, where he was president of SABMiller’s Backus, to Johannesburg as “rather smooth” from a corporate culture perspective. But he is now faced with a far more complex and larger business.

Leyva suggested that the move was smoother for him than it would have been for a non-SABMiller South African to take over the top job at SAB. “SABMiller has a corporate culture that is aligned and common throughout the world; we speak the same language.”

The SABMiller “manufacturing way” is a core part of that culture. Leyva said it had been applied in SABMiller’s 97 breweries across the globe and in many of those countries it had been improved upon. “For the last two years Latin America has been placed in the top 10 in terms of manufacturing excellence within the group,” said Leyva, who was with SABMiller in Honduras and Colombia before taking up the top position in Peru.

His current plan is to apply the improved international version of the SABMiller “manufacturing way” to the “mothership”, which has slipped down in SABMiller’s global rankings. “We want to get the seven South African breweries into the top quartile within the group,” said Leyva, who reckoned an “outsider’s” perspective helped to identify the scope for improvement. When fully realised these improvements could save around R300 million to R400m a year…..

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