AB Inbev: What have we learned? II

Cheering workers: lay-offs are cancelled for the mean time (photo De Standaard: http://www.standaard.be/artikel/detail.aspx?artikelid=5F2L76QS)

Today we saw a Stella truck leaving the factory and blowing the horn. AB Inbev cancelled the lay-offs. For a while, I reckon.

The Belgian shareholder families (de Spoelberch) called HQ. Jo Van Biesbroeck (managing director Western Europe for ABI), whom they trust and is trusted by the unions, stepped in and did a very sensible thing: cancel this shenanigans. The home market of Stella bleeded. The company lost money every day. It had to stop, rather sooner than later. That is leadership too: saying ‘we were wrong to do it this way, let’s try something else’.

So another great tip for managing a crisis:


Don’t wait for a major shareholder to call your boss who will overrule you. Next time, you need to negotiate again. If you’re still there. If you are a non-compromising CEO, maybe your HR director should do the talking.


If you need to change something, explain why that is needed to all stakeholders. Note that they need time to adapt to the new situation. Impacted groups will react. It is never a one shot. Focus on the solutions. Work them out together. More chance that it leaves your decision intact.


If the market shrinks, that doesn’t necessarily mean your volumes shrink. Ask West-Vleteren or Duvel Moortgat how they do. If your product portfolio is full of  commodities, yes then you will shrink too.

Read Seth Godin. Follow Fons Van Dyck. Look at Starbucks. The latest of their coffee bars are non-rebranded takeovers. That is sensible in a crisis: reduce branding costs. You can do fancy stuff when the economy gets better and you need costs anyway. (Apparently Starbucks offers 300 different types of drinks. That’s roughly the amount of different Belgian beers.)

So, thank you AB Inbev for this story and what we can learn from it. Hope it won’t happen again.

And for the rest, I’m happy to have Stella again. There were only 3 bottles left.

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