by Ulrich Zanconato, Legal Counsel, ING Belgium
On February 6, 2019, members of AmCham Belgium’s Young Professionals Committee and Fulbright Belgium met with Anneleen Straetemans, Global Legal Director Competition at AB InBev, to discuss everything about her career and (the business of) beer.
Anneleen welcomed us at AB InBev’s historical office on the Grand Place in Brussels, which remains the company’s registered office today. The centuries-old building was the ancient seat of the Brewers’ Guild, and while climbing up its typically Belgian, narrow, wooden staircase, we indeed had the feeling of going back in time. There, a good beer (alcohol-free though, in line with AB InBev’s Smart Drinking policy) was the perfect start to this Eat & Meet.
Anneleen immediately satisfied the curiosity of the audience by describing how she reached an important position at a young age. After graduating in law from KU Leuven, she completed her LL.M. at the Berkeley School of Law. She then worked for six years in the competition practice of international law firm Freshfields, where she had the chance to demonstrate her skills by working on AB InBev’s acquisition of SABMiller. Shortly after, she became in-house counsel at AB InBev.
Anneleen believes that if you do your job well, people will notice and opportunities will come to you – just like when you plant a seed, take care of it and let it grow. All the "seeds" that we plant in our life matter as they help us grow personally and professionally. Simple as it sounds, this is a great piece of advice for young professionals on how to progress in their careers.
Furthermore, she stressed the importance of communities. The Fulbright community, for example, has been of great value to her as it allowed her to study in the US and socialize with a broader group than the law students’ community.
Sustainability was an important topic discussed during the lunch. AB InBev has set very ambitious 2025 Sustainability Goals and aims to enhance the sustainability of its business by empowering its farmers, by using water even more efficiently and securing water access for its communities, as well as by cutting CO2 emissions. In particular, the achievement of its 2025 Sustainability Goals is supported by the Accelerator 100+, which will provide funding for start-ups to solve challenges designed to create a more sustainable world for all.
The culture at AB InBev
AB InBev grew to become the world’s largest brewer through, among others, a series of mergers, both large and small. Asked about the impact of rapid, inorganic growth on the company’s culture, Anneleen showed how AB InBev managed to maintain remarkably coherent values, embedded in its Dream People Culture, which is centered on empowerment and recognition of personal achievements. Clear goals are set at the top and everyone is working towards the same targets. People at AB InBev are go-getters, and the company’s informal structure allows decisions to be taken quickly, making it very agile.
The importance of data
We then moved on to discuss the future of the beer industry. The main message here was the importance of data. Brewers’ access to the market relies generally upon distributors, retailers and bars, which causes them to have little direct interaction with end consumers. AB InBev is thus focused on getting to know its consumers better to better adapt its portfolio to consumer preferences.
Data is also extremely important for Anneleen’s work in competition and compliance. She is working on the development of an antitrust compliance platform, which involves her working closely with AB InBev’s data engineers. Data will unlock value in today’s world, and everyone, even lawyers, must develop the skills to navigate big data and data analysis.
Thanks to AB InBev for hosting this event and to Fulbright Belgium for the co-organization!