Jim Armitage: Man who put South African Breweries on global stage dies

Outlook I first met Graham Mackay, who died yesterday at 64, in a rather nice restaurant in London's Mayfair just before the turn of the millennium. With no great insight on my part – mere technophobia, really – I couldn't understand why nobody in the City seemed to be interested in investing in anything that didn't end in ".com".

Mr Mackay had just floated a very real, very non-dotcom business – South African Breweries – on the London Stock Exchange and he drily mused about how its valuation would have a few more noughts on the end if he'd managed to create some absurd online story to tell investors. I wasn't being dim about tech, he insisted: the markets were.

SAB was employing many thousands of South Africans making and selling millions of hectolitres of beer to a thirsty nation. All this piqued my interest in all things African, but was not much aid to my quest for a UK angle to tempt my editors. That all changed as Mr Mackay's beer deal machine got into gear. He'd floated SAB in London to raise money to buy businesses outside of Africa, and that was quickly what he did. Miller in the US was a huge bite – too big for many analysts' comfort but one he eventually bedded down.

Another whopper – cleverer than Miller in my view – was the Latin American brewer, Bavaria. With that he sewed up a commanding position in new, fast growing emerging markets – bread and butter to a man steeped in Africa. Urquell – a favourite tipple of mine – was smaller but easy to build. The later Peroni deal was similar: he turned this from a fairly small, specialist Italian brand into a premium end mainstream lager. Somehow he even managed to get away with selling it for over £5 a pint in city bars. Under Mr Mackay's leadership, SAB became the world's second biggest brewer. It stands utterly transformed into a true global champion. For South Africans, in these nervy post-Mandela times, they can be proud of this strong, African company he developed. For the brewing world, if you'll forgive the pun, a very canny man is lost. He died peacefully, surrounded by his family in Hampshire and is survived by his second wife Bev and his six sons.

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