Anheuser-Busch President Dave Peacock Steps Down

Global Parent A-B InBev Picks Brazilian Native to Lead U.S. Operation

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Dave Peacock
Dave Peacock
There's more turnover in the executive ranks at Anheuser-Busch, this time at the very top.

President Dave Peacock is resigning and will be replaced by Luiz Edmond, the brewer's North America zone president, according to a memo sent to distributors today and obtained by Ad Age . Mr. Peacock was one of the few remaining holdovers who had stayed with the company after it was acquired in 2008 by Belgium-based InBev, creating global parent Anheuser-Busch InBev. His departure comes in the wake of other big changes at the brewer's U.S. division, which continues to lose market share in a tough economic environment and new competition from spirits that has hurt most big beer brands.

Mr. Edmond will keep his position as zone president while taking on oversight of the U.S. operation. Mr. Peacock will continue to serve in an advisory role, according to the memo, which was sent by Mr. Edmond, a Brazilian citizen who rose up the ranks in the InBev organization.

"Dave's experience and knowledge will continue to be valued in his new advisory role, helping with strategic decisions," the memo said. "Dave has built a strong, talented team of people who are well-equipped to carry the business forward, poised for great things."

Mr. Peacock, who began working at A-B in 1992, was promoted to president in 2008 in the wake of the acquisition after serving as VP-marketing since late 2007. While many U.S. executives departed after the InBev takeover, Mr. Peacock was handpicked by the new owners to lead the critical U.S. operation.

His departure more than three years later means "the takeover is complete," said former A-B Chief Creative Officer Bob Lachky, who left in 2009. "The old A-B culture has been expunged. The management team has been totally transitioned and that was to be expected."

A-B InBev, under the leadership of CEO Carlos Brito, is known for cost-cutting, strict methods for testing advertising and a vigilant retail strategy that of late has included boosting prices on sub-premium brands in hopes of driving drinkers to more premium offerings. But while the brewer watches every penny, it still spends a ton on marketing, ranking as the 22nd largest U.S. advertiser with a $1.36 billion budget in the U.S., according to the Ad Age Data Center.

It seems unlikely that Mr. Peacock's exit will lead to changes in marketing -- mostly because those wheels are already turning. Paul Chibe, the VP-U.S. marketing who came aboard last summer replacing former lead marketer Keith Levy, recently hired two new agencies to oversee Bud Light -- McGarryBowen and Translation. A-B has also brought on Publicis Groupe 's Starcom USA to handle U.S. media planning and research duties. The agency will report to Blaise D'Sylva, who was hired in January as U.S. VP- media, and sports and entertainment marketing. He replaced Mark Wright, who left for AT&T last summer. Mr. Chibe will report directly to Mr. Edmond, according to the memo.

Mr. Peacock held various marketing and corporate roles during his tenure, including media, planning, brand management and sales. Mr. Lachky described him as "good on his feet," adding that "I've always admired his ability to adapt."

He landed the president's job after building trust with the new owners. "Peacock, thanks partly to the goodwill he built with InBev during merger negotiations, assumed the highest profile role of any 'old Anheuser' executive," according to the book "Dethroning the King," by Julie MacIntosh, which chronicles the hostile takeover. "The job wasn't particularly enviable, though. His new employer was pressuring workers, vendors and wholesalers to slash costs."

In the memo, Mr. Edmond said: "Dave has been a great colleague, embracing and leading many changes that we agreed would be difficult, but that would ultimately benefit the U.S. business in the long-term. He has helped Brito, me and the global and zone management teams in transitioning the company in many ways over the past three years."

Of late, more pressure has come as the brewer's top brands continue to lose ground. In a psychological blow, Budweiser recently lost its spot as the nation's second-best selling beer, marking the first time in almost 20 years that Anheuser-Busch has not controlled the nation's top two beer brands, according to shipment data from trade publication Beer Marketer's Insights. Anheuser-Busch remains the top-selling brewer by a wide margin, but its market share for 2011 fell to 47.0% from 47.7%, to 98.8 million barrels, dropping below 100 million for the first time in more than a decade, according to Beer Marketer's. A-B's struggles are not unique. All big brewers, including No. 2 MillerCoors, are dealing with less spending by blue-collar drinkers and more competition from smaller craft beers and spirits brands.

Even so, there are signs of hope for A-B. For instance, Budweiser, while down, is falling less rapidly as the brand continues to reach out to younger drinkers in its marketing. And A-B InBev, through it all, has remained highly profitable, with the global bottom line jumping 16% in the third quarter, the brewer reported.

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