Interbrew, the Belgian beer giant, surprised the industry yesterday by announcing that its chief executive was to go sooner than expected and be replaced by an outsider.
John Brock, the chief operating officer at Cadbury Schweppes, who recently lost out in the race for the top job, is to become Interbrew's new chief executive. He will succeed Hugo Powell, 58, in February who is leaving a year earlier than expected. Interbrew's beers include Stella Artois, Beck's and Hoegaarden.
Mr Powell, who has been at the helm for three years and has joint British and Canadian citizenship, led the company to a €3.5bn (£2.2bn) initial public offering. However, Interbrew's shares have since slumped after it was seen to over-pay for acquisitions, including the disastrous £2.3bn acquisition of Bass Brewers in the UK – regulators forced it to sell the business. There have also been operational problems over missing opportunities in the Russian markets and acquisition integration difficulties.
One analyst said: "It's a big surprise that this [Mr Powell's departure] has come so quickly. I'm also surprised that they went for someone outside the company. There'll have been several internal candidates."
Mr Powell has a six-year-old daughter from a second marriage and is retiring to Canada, after 19 years with Interbrew and Labatt. "1 December 2002 marked my 40th year in business.... It is now time to give priority to my family."
Interbrew's profile in the UK has been built through its acquisitions of Bass and Whitbread's brewing businesses and an extraordinary legal battle. The company tried to force several British media organisations, including The Independent, to hand over leaked documents which appeared to show Interbrew plotting a bid for South African Breweries.
The Belgian group eventually backed off earlier this year but not before the case came close to seeing some journalists jailed for refusing to hand over the papers.
The loss of Mr Brock, 54, was seen as a considerable blow. Andrew Wood, an analyst at Sanford C Bernstein in New York, said: "John's resignation comes the same week that Cadbury announced its $4.2bn (£2.6bn) acquisition of Adams, its largest acquisition and integration effort ever. We believe many investors, are already concerned about Cadbury's capability to manage such a large and risky integration."