A sign advertising Castle Lager stands on an exterior wall at the SABMiller Alrode brewery and bottling plant, a unit of Anheuser-Busch InBev, in Johannesburg. Picture: BLOOMBERG
A sign advertising Castle Lager stands on an exterior wall at the SABMiller Alrode brewery and bottling plant, a unit of Anheuser-Busch InBev, in Johannesburg. Picture: BLOOMBERG

Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) is tapping the former CEO of Altria Group to lead its board, filling a void as the previous chair steps down to avoid a potential conflict of interest.

The world’s largest brewer has nominated Marty Barrington, a current board member, it said in a statement on Tuesday. The appointment still needs to be approved by investors at the annual meeting on April 24. Altria is one of AB InBev’s largest shareholders.

Barrington retired as head of the Marlboro maker 2018 after six years in the role. During his time at Altria, he accelerated the development of the company’s products that it deems less harmful than cigarettes. He will step into the chair role at AB InBev at a time when Americans have been turning away from beer at an alarming rate. Still, the company’s Bud Light brand is by the far the most popular beer in the US.

JAB conflict

Outgoing chair Olivier Goudet is exiting the role at the beer maker due to a potential conflict of interest related to his role as CEO of JAB Holding, which has gained stature in the beverage and restaurant industries. The investment company, which counts the billionaire Reimann family among its backers, has snapped up chains such as Caribou Coffee, Panera Bread and Pret A Manger.

Barrington’s appointment is intended to better represent the interests of minority shareholders in the company, a person familiar with the situation said. The board also valued his expertise in operating in a heavily regulated industry and his corporate governance experience, the person said. AB InBev has long been associated with the business model of its largest shareholders, who are partners in Brazilian private equity firm 3G Capital and built the massive brewer over decades of serial acquisitions and extreme discipline on costs.

The company is also trying to more than double the number of women on its board from two to five, with the appointment of Sabine Chalmers, the company’s former head of legal; Chinese automotive executive Xiaozhi Liu, and Cecilia Sicupira, whose father is a partner at 3G and is planning to step down from the board. Claudio Garcia, the company’s former chief people officer, will also join the board if the appointments are approved at the shareholder meeting.

Bloomberg