Brickey’s ongoing talent and integration efforts as the top HR officer for AB InBev’s North American operations are even tougher thanks to vacillating consumer beer drinking habits, especially in the U.S.
Demand for beer in the U.S. has weakened in recent years, as consumers, bored with mainstream lager, have flocked to wine and spirits, said Tom Pirko, president of food and beverage industry consulting firm Bevmark in Buellton, Calif. Then there’s the increasing popularity of local or craft beers, which also have disrupted mainstream beer sales.
AB InBev’s second quarter earnings report released at the end of July showed a North American profit margin expansion for the first time in about a year. “I honestly think we’re looking at something of a culture shift,” Pirko said of domestic beer purchasing and consumption habits.
AB InBev has responded by creating more specialty beers such as Bud Light Platinum, which contains 6 percent alcohol, and margarita-flavored Bud Light Lime Lima-a-Rita, both sold at premium prices. Still, Pirko said the changing domestic beer market, along with the continued culture change at AB InBev, presents a unique challenge for the company. He also said the cutbacks and operational efficiencies InBev brought with it when it acquired Anheuser-Busch — a company Pirko described as bloated and notorious for needless spending — will attract a different talent profile.
“When you have this change of culture, when you have people who are thinking about the economics of the business in a different way, you tend to attract a different kind of person,” Pirko said. “You don’t attract somebody who’s on a standard career-driven automatic rise in status as you hang in.”
Melissa Reuscher, the company’s North American vice president of people continuity, said Brickey’s leadership style of innovation and creativity has equipped him well to manage the challenge. She pointed to his passionate, hands-on approach to hiring, and his influence on the company’s expansive new-hire management training program as examples of success. “We place a lot of value on our people, and therefore need to make sure we have excellent talent selection and talent development programs,” she said.