Has SABMiller missed a trick by keeping its chairman succession in-house?

Has SABMiller missed a trick by keeping its chairman succession in-house?

The departure of SABMiller's CEO next year, to become chairman, could represent a missed opportunity to get some external perspective, an analyst has suggested.

Earlier today (23 April), the brewer confirmed that Graham Mackay, who has been chief executive since 1999, will become chairman in 2013. Mackay will replace retiring chairman Meyer Khan from July this year, before assuming the chairmanship exclusively and making way for the current head of European operations, Alan Clark, next year.

In a note to clients today, however, Trevor Stirling at Sanford Bernstein warned that SABMiller may have missed the opportunity to benefit from an alternative take on matters that concern the brewer. “We endorse much of the thinking behind these appointments,” he said, “but we do have some reservations.

“We have the utmost respect for Graham Mackay as a CEO and we are sure that he will be a very effective chairman. However, although SABMiller is a great company, there are times when it is not quite as good as it thinks it is, when its very strong culture, in our view, makes it too inwardly-focused and defensive/resistant to change.”

While recognising Mackay's “very powerful skill set and his ability to manage the evolution of what is undoubtedly a very strong and effective internal culture and a complex set of international partnerships”, Stirling said the brewer could benefit from “an injection of external perspective from another sector that also has extensive experience of the complexities of emerging markets”.

Turning to Mackay's replacement, Stirling said that Clark's biggest challenge will be to “reinforce SABMiller's strong operationally-focused culture and yet, at the same time, capture the benefits of better global integration.

“We view the current deliverables (from SABMiller's Business Capability Programme) as only a starting point if SABMiller is to match global best practice in terms of efficiency (and thereby defend itself against a potential acquiror),” Stirling added. “We hope Alan thinks the same way.”

SABMiller's Business Capability Programme is scheduled to deliver $300m in savings by fiscal 2014.