From the Classroom to the Boardroom and Back Again
When Brazilian investment bankers Beto Sicupira and Marcel Telles bought Companhia Cervejaria Brahma in 1989, little did they know that 20 years later their vision would result in the merger of InterBrew and AmBev as well as the subsequent acquisition of Anheuser-Busch. These two transactions created Anheuser-Busch InBev—the maker of Budweiser and one of the world's five largest consumer products companies with $39.2 billion in revenue and more than 120,000 employees.
Sicupira and Telles trace the roots of their success back to their participation in the Owner/President Management (OPM) program at Harvard Business School (HBS). On a recent visit to the HBS campus, the longtime colleagues and friends shared their perspectives on the professional impact of OPM, the value of executive education in the current economic climate, and how the School continues to contribute to their long-term success.
"We were drawn to the OPM program because all of the participants are responsible for sending themselves—and that makes a big difference," explains Sicupira. "These business owners want to be there not only because they're paying their own way, but also because they're investing valuable time. When you're away that long from your business, you're fully committed to getting the most out of the experience."
Sicupira recalls that before attending OPM he "always went straight for the answer. OPM taught me the analytical process—to think before jumping to the answer. It also gave me the opportunity to see that the problems I was facing were the same issues that business owners were confronting around the world."
Reflecting on the current economic climate, Sicupira and Telles both agree that the primary cause is a lack of ownership on the part of executives. "Most of what happened could be simply solved. There's been a disconnect from people's actions and the consequences of those actions. For example," Telles says, "shareholders have no risk of ownership. Instead of options with bonuses but no downside, there needs to be a shift in remuneration. Moving ahead, people need to take more ownership. When companies are so big and ownership is so diluted, accountability is diminished, too."
Now members of the Anheuser-Busch InBev board, Sicupira and Telles continue to send employees of their investment bank to the OPM program. "There is a commonality in the culture and values of business ownership that we want to instill in our colleagues," notes Sicupira. "OPM gives people the opportunity to interact with business owners, share insights on common problems, and work with entrepreneurs who are fully committed to their business."
Sicupira and Telles believe that the state of the economy is even more reason for business owners to send employees to such programs. "If you want your company to have a future, you can't stop investing in your people during a recession," Telles adds. "Even in tough times, professional development is something you should be able to afford. In order to be successful, you have to keep developing and building your pipeline of good people."