When he takes the top spot at Anheuser-Busch InBev’s North American unit in January, Michel Doukeris has a clear mandate: deliver top-line growth.
The 44-year-old Brazilian, who has been with the company since 1996, will replace João Castro Neves as CEO of the company’s U.S. division, Anheuser-Busch. Doukeris is faced with a task that Castro Neves could not achieve: turning around the fortunes of Anheuser-Busch’s two largest brands: Budweiser and Bud Light.
Here are some key questions he’ll be facing:
Can he stem the declines for his top two brands? Bud Light, the top-selling beer in America, posted a 7.8 percent sales decline over the last four weeks, according to Nielsen all-outlet data through Nov. 4. Budweiser, meanwhile, was down 7 percent over the last four weeks. In an interview with Brewbound, ABI CEO Carlos Brito said stanching those declines is a top priority. “A lot of our future will depend on that High End having a bigger role,” he told the publication. “Of course, I’d like to see Bud Light stabilized, and that’s part of the metrics that we have for (Doukeris.) It’s not going to be overnight.” Brito separately told the Wall Street Journal he likes the direction Bud Light marketing guru Andy Goeler is taking the brand, so expect a continued focus on quality and, mostly, humor such as the “Dilly Dilly” campaign.
Can Doukeris bring his international success with Budweiser home? He is credited with helping to grow Budweiser in international markets, particularly China.
Can he reinvent how Anheuser-Busch goes to market? Doukeris told Beer Business Daily (subscription required,) he’ll bring a “ruthless focus” on meeting customer needs, aim to improve the company’s speed-to-market and invest in data and analytics. “We really need to reinvent … the way we go to market, in terms of prototyping, testing, scaling up initiatives,” he told BBD. “We are a big company, but we need to be very fast. So speed to market is key.”
Will we see more innovation or acquisitions? With his background helping launch ABI's The High End division, which holds the company's global craft brands, Doukeris' appointment could signal that “ABI will focus even more on migrating its portfolio up the curve but has to stabilize the core,” Brett Cooper, an analyst with Consumer’s Edge Research wrote in a note to clients. That may mean an increased amount of innovation at a faster pace, perhaps translating into more line extensions, a favorite of the Bud Light family (and, more recently, Budweiser and red-hot Michelob Ultra); development of new brands; and more acquisitions.
What’s next? The timing of the shakeup raised eyebrows among some Wall Street analysts, who suggested that it reflects a new sense of urgency to improve sales trends in the U.S., its largest market. Robert Ottenstein, an analyst for Evercore ISI, said in a note to clients that the leadership shuffles “likely reflect increase pressure on Brito from the board to improve U.S. commercial trends.”
All eyes in the industry will be watching closely to see how he grapples with these questions. Paul Steegers, a research analyst with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said in a research note that no matter who is in charge at the top of Anheuser-Busch, the issues facing Bud and Bud Light “might be difficult to solve.”