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Michel Doukeris appointed CEO of AB InBev North America

Michel Doukeris appointed CEO of AB InBev North America

AB InBev has replaced its US CEO, Joao Castro Neves, as it struggles to stem declining beer sales.

Castro Neves, who had been in the top job since 2015, has been succeeded by Michel Doukeris, who is currently chief sales officer.

Doukeris spent four years as Zone President, Asia Pacific for AB InBev, departing the role in January 2017.

Castro Neves' departure has shocked the industry - he was expected to be the next global CEO of the company. 

“Neves had been viewed as a potential successor to [Carlos] Brito. If Doukeris can deliver on growth in the US, this would boost his chances for the top spot,” Jefferies analysts told Reuters.

Brito said it was too early to speculate: "I’ve been here 20-plus years and I’ll be here another 20.”

Brito also noted that he had discussed the departure of Neves with him for nearly a year and that it was a “personal decision”.

“I came to the conclusion that it was time to slow down a bit and start the next chapter,” Neves said. “Spend some more time with the family as I think about whatever I will do.”

Beer sales in the US have been in steady decline - dropping 6.2% in the third quarter of this year - and are struggling to compete with craft beer, wine and spirits.

Liberum analyst Nico von Stackelberg said: “I don’t think anyone is really hoping for dramatic volume turnarounds. Just stopping the bleeding is the hope.”

Castro Neves will stay on to help acclimate Doukeris, who will take over as CEO on January 1, 2018.

Doukeris a star performer in Asia Pacific & China

Doukeris has been with AB InBev since 1996. He was appointed President AB InBev China in January 2010 and Zone President Asia Pacific in January 2013. During his tenure in China, he oversaw Budweiser’s rapid growth, helping to make China Budweiser’s largest growth market.

“China came from nowhere to today being among our top five markets in terms of profitability and growth,” Brito said. “He also built a very strong market leadership position in Korea and also seizing India and Vietnam.”

Doukeris was also instrumental in the creation of The High End business unit, which kicked off in China and the US then expanded to 22 countries around the world. The High End business unit now has more than $US5billion in global sales and significant share gains in the premium segment across markets. 

He also executed a successful new strategy for AB InBev in South Korea, a developed three tier market where we are a leader in the country.

Brito said the US is the company’s most important market and that Doukeris was the ideal person to lead it.

“He’s very consumer-centric, he has a great commercial mind,” Brito told Reuters.

What Doukeris has planned for AB InBev US

Brito told Brew Bound he would measure Doukeris’ success by his ability to grow revenue.

His two main tasks will be turning around the Bud and Bud Light brands and oversees the continued development of the company’s “High End” division of craft beer, cider and import brands, including growing sales of Michelob Ultra, which now accounts for close to 10% of the company’s total business.

“A lot of our future will depend on that High End having a bigger role,” he said. “Of course, I’d like to see Bud Light stabilised, and that’s part of the metrics that we have for Michel. It’s not going to be overnight. It’s a brand that has close to 20% of share of total beer in the U.S., and, of course, the market got much more fragmented but we have to get Bud Light more and more ready for this kind of market.”

Doukeris said he aims to improve the company’s capabilities in digital, data and analytics.

“It’s not only about being being big but about being fast,” he noted.