AB InBev Global CMO Steps Down

Burggraeve Credited With Bringing New View, Bigger Budgets to Marketing

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Anheuser-Busch InBev Global Chief Marketing Officer Chris Burggraeve has stepped down and will be replaced by Miguel Patricio, zone president for Asia Pacific.

Chris Burggraeve
Chris Burggraeve

"After 23 years of working for some of the best global brand companies, Chris has decided to explore his own entrepreneurial potential," an AB InBev spokeswoman said in an email.

AB InBev is the world's largest brewer and ranks as the 44th-largest advertiser internationally, according to the Ad Age Data Center.

Mr. Burggraeve's resignation, first reported by beer trade publication Beer Marketer's Insights, marks yet another leadership change at AB InBev, formed in 2008 by Belgium-based InBev's acquisition of U.S.-based Anheuser Busch. In January, Dave Peacock, the brewer's U.S. president and one of the few lone holdovers from legacy Anheuser-Busch, announced his resignation. He was replaced by Luiz Edmond, a Brazilian citizen, who added U.S. duties to his role as North America zone president.

In its report today, Beer Marketer's noted that nine of 14 members of the brewer's executive management board are now Brazilian. Only one American is on the board, Chief Procurement Officer Tony Milikin.

Mr. Burggraeve, a Belgian citizen, joined the brewer in 2007 after a 12-year stint at Coca-Cola Co., working in marketing and management, mostly in Europe. The current president of the World Federation of Advertisers, Mr. Burggraeve also spent time with Procter & Gamble after beginning his career at consulting and technology startup companies, according to his official biography.

Mr. Patricio, a Portuguese citizen, joined Brazil's AmBev in 1998. (AmBev merged with Belgium's Interbrew in 2004, forming one of the predecessors to AB InBev.) At AmBev, Mr. Patricio was a VP-marketing, moving on to serve as VP-marketing for InBev's North American zone. He was later promoted to North American zone president.

He became the brewer's Asia Pacific president in 2008, where he has worked from Shanghai, overseeing such key countries as China, which has become an important market for the brewer as it seeks to capitalize on emerging premium beer tastes in the nation.

The brewer did not elaborate on where Mr. Burggraeve was headed or the exact circumstances of his departure. Mr. Burggraeve "brought a lot of change and systemization to the way the global [AB InBev] looked at marketing," said Benj Steinman, president of Beer Marketer's Insights. "They've stepped up to the plate and done a lot of big marketing expenditures that not everyone necessarily expected."

One of the biggest global priorities is Budweiser, which the brewer has sought to turn into a global brand on the scale of Coca-Cola, recently launching the American brew in markets such as Brazil, Russia and Ukraine. The brand has had two positive years of global growth but remains in decline in the U.S., albeit at a slower rate. In total, the brewer's worldwide measured-media spending increased to $967.3 million in 2010 from $839.1 million in 2009, the latest data available from the Ad Age DataCenter.

But even as ad outlays grow, the brewer developed a reputation for cost-cutting and strict methods for testing advertising. Critics say the company is overly focused on the bottom line. "This company has turned into a bunch of financial experts," said one advertising executive familiar with the brewer. "What business are they in: the financial business or beer-marketing business?"

An AB InBev spokeswoman pointed to investments in international focus brands such as Bud, whose global volume grew by 3.1% last year, and Stella Artois, which was up 5.9%. Executives are also bullish on the early success of Bud Light Platinum, a new higher-alcohol version of Bud Light that was launched this year in the U.S. The brewer has also spent big on its NFL sponsorship.

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