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Business Comment

Anthony Hilton: Innovation rather than acquisition is the challenge now facing SAB Miller


Thanks to the brewers SAB Miller who took me as a guest, Monday evening was spent watching Death in Venice, staged by English National Opera at the Coliseum.

It was Benjamin Britten’s last work and unusual in having a central character who dances but has no singing part at all. Britten saw this as a theatrical device to emphasise the gulf between him and the other characters – he was out of reach in a different world.

SAB Miller has been very successful since the time when, as   South African Breweries, it moved its headquarters to London to give it a better base to take on the world. The company succeeded beyond all expectations but is now having to come to terms with a new set of challenges.

Today it is recognised as one of the world’s leading brewers, largely by acquisition. However, the opportunities for more big deals are getting fewer because most of the obvious prizes have been snapped up. 

The big question therefore is whether it can transform itself from a company which grew by doing deals to one which can grow market share by product innovation and marketing. To do so will require a completely different set of skills, and perhaps a different culture at the top.

It will not be an easy transition, but hopefully the brewer will be more successful in achieving its goal than the character in the opera, who ended up dead  in Venice.