Transitioning key back office functions from local-facing to global is a challenge facing SABMiller’s corporate HQ in the UK, informs its Head of HR, Ollie Roberts.
Interviewed by Darren Wentworth, Partner, Frazer Jones, UK.
SAB Miller is the world’s second largest brewer. We operate across six continents, with our corporate headquarters based in the UK housing most of our corporate executive team along with 550 staff. My remit is global, with responsibility for around 2,000 people across South Africa and other key countries. We continue to grow successfully and organically, with Africa and Latin America as good examples of fast growing markets where there’s huge opportunity. Therefore a key challenge for us is to globalise some of our corporate functions.
Beer is a local product and that’s not going to change. But where we see an opportunity is to leverage off our scale: we’re a 70,000 people-strong business, and IT is an obvious place to start. Globalising the IT function is not so much a systems challenge, but a people one. It requires us to build capability amongst our people so that they can do their jobs better. In the past as a decentralised business, IT people have reported locally all over the world. There are a variety of very strong commercial reasons as to why we’re looking to change that, not least how you manage your risk profile and how you get efficiency and greater quality. On the flipside a lot of our success has come from autonomy and local accountability, so when you look to globally centralise in a business that is not used to having any kind of global functions, it’s quite challenging.
The new IT structure will report up to a new global IT executive committee and one global CIO. Part of the HR challenge is making sure we are delivering our management systems for all those people around the world, in a coordinated manner. This entails a hearts and minds piece, trying to show them the benefits, laying out the strong commercial reasons for a global function and how it will ultimately improve company performance. That creates a whole series of challenges around how you talk to people, how you engage with them, how you manage them, and how we build leadership capability amongst our IT staff.
We have invested in a number of senior IT leaders who will be based in the UK. The executive committee leaders based in the UK must ultimately drive and deliver change in a decentralised business. This means we have to become even better at what we do, up-skill people and build capability. The more we can help them to do their jobs the better they’ll succeed in those regional markets.
We’ve continued to recruit throughout last year, and I am sure that will continue this year and next. We’re also very keen to build a talent pipeline and look at people with high potential who are strong performers. This is something that is unlikely to change; we’ve never had a view to just freeze recruitment even when times have been more tricky. Our view is always to look at good quality people and see where we can deploy them. A lot of the skillsets we look for in our corporate roles are pretty specialist so to find really good people in the market who are going to excel from that point of view can be challenging. Where we need that expertise, we go and talk to Darren or the team at Frazer Jones, because we really feel they know the market well and they know where those people who are going to add value to our business, are.
The next HR challenge will be a global procurement function, following a similar journey to IT. The reasons to do so are obvious: the more spend you get under control, the greater the benefits.