Craig Katerberg | General Counsel at Anheuser-Busch
Putting People First | 40 Breweries in China | Priorities during Covid-19 | 160 Years of History | Transition to a New Normal | Bringing People Together
I interviewed Craig Katerberg | General Counsel at Anheuser-Busch on Friday, May 15th, 2020.
This is part one of a two-part series with Craig. We began the episode with Craig sharing about how Anheuser-Busch prepared for COVID-19 and received insight from their 40 breweries in China including Wuhan. We discussed how AB prioritized people, communities, and business continuity. Craig shared about the long history of Anheuser-Busch and that this isn’t their first crisis. We discussed crisis advice for general counsel. He shared ideas about the new normal that is coming. Craig and I finished the conversation discussing how he’s seen leadership in the people around him during this time.
Here are some highlights of my interview with Craig Katerberg:
We have 40 breweries in China, one of which is in Wuhan. This gave us an advantage because we were able to experience and understand how people in China and the company in China were working previous to the virus’ arrival in the United States.
A few months ago, we never would have thought that we’d be making hand sanitizer at Anheuser-Busch, and yet that’s one of the products that we have innovated.
If you’re safe, you’re with family, and you’re able to work from home, you are in quite a privileged position compared to those on the front lines.
Putting people first is essential, especially in the situation of a public health crisis.
We’ve faced crises before, however, this is a different type of crisis. Every crisis is a little bit unique, but certainly, there have been difficult times for Anheuser-Busch as a company. We’ve faced the Spanish Flu and were around during world wars.
The greatest challenge is dealing with so much uncertainty. There are many unknowns related to individuals and their personal circumstances.
Bringing people together is at the core of our mission as a beer company, but it is also an inherent human need.
There is much more appreciation for the hard work that people are doing, but also, that they are people at the end of the day. They’re part of families, juggling work and life and you see it on Zoom calls when kids appear and the mood changes.
Links referred to in this episode:
Anheuser-Busch Will Redirect Sports & Entertainment Investments to Support Those on the Front Lines of COVID-19
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Greetings friends, this is Chris Batz, your host of The Law Firm Leadership Podcast. We are certainly living in interesting times. COVID-19 has touched everyone in some way. Many are grieving the loss of a loved one and others are using this time to reconnect with family and those around them. I know I speak for everyone to say we are eternally grateful for the essential businesses and workers who put their lives on the lines every day. Thank you for being our heroes in this most important time.
In regards to today, these next two episodes will be a two-part series with the general counsel of a global US beverage company. Today’s episode will be focused on COVID-19 and many topics surrounding this Fortune 500’s journey in the midst of a global pandemic. In the second episode, we discussed my guest’s global mergers & acquisitions career, his leadership style, his passion for improvement, going in-house advice, and much more.
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As many of you know, we interview corporate defense, law firm leaders, partners, general counsel, and legal consultants. You are listening to episode forty of The Law Firm Leadership Podcast.
Chris: Welcome to The Law Firm Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Chris Batz with The Lion Group. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Craig Katerberg, General Counsel of Anheuser-Busch of St. Louis. Since joining AB InBev in 2012, Craig has held positions based in North America, China, Europe, and Australia. He has worked on negotiating and integrating some of the largest global M&A transactions in the beverage sector, in Australia, Canada, China, India, Korea, the US, and other countries. Before joining AB InBev, Craig worked at major law firms in the US, Latin America as well as working in the public sector in New York City. Craig holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago and a law degree from Northwestern University. Welcome, Craig, to The Law Firm Leadership Podcast.
Craig: Thanks, Chris. It’s great to be here.
The Advantage of Having 40 Breweries in China
Chris: Would you share with me your first-hand experience of how quickly the world has changed?
Craig: First, I really hope all your listeners are doing well at this time as the entire world is focused on this topic. The first point is: I don’t think we’re necessarily through the crisis. In fact, I think we have quite a long way to go, but you are starting to see a lot of changes. Being flexible is one of those traits we certainly each need during this time. Change is more so day to day rather than quarterly or yearly. Our top priorities are always our people as well as their health and safety.
Chris: You mentioned your facilities in Wuhan, China. Talk to me about how this has evolved for you.
Craig: We have 40 breweries in China, one of which is in Wuhan. This gave us an advantage because we were able to experience and understand how people in China and the company in China were working previous to the virus’ arrival in the United States. In February/March, when the virus ramped up in the US and people started preparing for this oncoming health crisis, China had been dealing with it for several months. Due to this, we had some very good insight into how to prepare for COVID-19.
Of course, no one knows, even today, where things are going and we certainly didn’t know at that time if the virus would come to the United States. But, understanding a little bit about how other people have dealt with stressful situations can be very helpful in terms of mapping out your priorities and focusing your attention to ensure you’re as prepared as possible.
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Chris: When did things get serious for you and the executive leadership team in St. Louis?
Craig: We were hearing reports coming out of China, so we were taking it quite seriously. We established a crisis committee fairly early which focused on ensuring that we were ready for what we foresaw and eventually part of what did come. We were seeing infections in China and, later, in Italy before infections happened in the US. Obviously, as soon as you have your first infection and then a positive case, it gets very serious. These are your colleagues that you’re dealing with and we wanted to make sure everyone was okay going through that situation. You plan as much as you can, but of course, you can’t control all factors that are out there.
Prioritizing People, Communities and Business Continuity
Chris: How did priorities begin to change as General Counsel?
Craig: On normal years – if such a normal year ever exists – you have your three-year and one-year plans. You’re looking at the different quarters, and prioritizing the week or month based on the business goals for that specific time period. 2020 is one of those years where you’ve seen many public companies retract their guidance. Most of the companies are much more focused on their employees and what’s happening in the market and less focused on quarterly or yearly results. Those things, of course, matter but they’re certainly a secondary priority to the health & safety of your colleagues, employees, and the larger societal impacts.
A few months ago, we never would have thought that we’d be making hand sanitizer at Anheuser-Busch, and yet that’s one of the products that we have innovated in response to a real need we saw. We donated it through our partnership with the American Red Cross, and people have responded very well. Creating that product was totally unexpected, even a couple of months ago. At that point, we were focused on beer sales at bars and restaurants which seems funny to talk about with most bars and restaurants still closed in the US.
Chris: When everything froze, how were you, as the manufacturer, relating with and communicating with your vendors?
Craig: We always try to over-communicate in a lot of ways to make sure that our priorities are very clear for our employees, wholesalers, customers, and even our consumers in a lot of cases. Some of the advertisements that we’ve done are not really advertisements. It’s about one team pulling together and about how, as a society, we’re working together to get through this COVID-19 crisis.
We always stress to our wholesalers and others that we’ve got three priorities: the health & safety of our employees, helping protect and serve our communities. We live in St. Louis, New York, and Michigan, but have people working for us in every single state in the United States. Millions of people are very negatively impacted by this and are going through very different situations. We always make sure that we prioritize people, communities, and business continuity which haven’t changed throughout this crisis.
Chris: How have you handled stress in this situation?
Craig: In a crisis like this one, it’s very acute for many people, but for some, we simply need to remember how fortunate we are. If you’re safe, you’re with family, and you’re able to work from home, you are in quite a privileged position compared to those on the front lines. There is a lot of talk about hero pay and the heroes out there, but, frankly, everyone who is an essential worker or personally impacted is dealing with far more stress than people working through crisis committees or making strategic decisions. It’s a different level of stress.
When you are dealing with personal impacts, your world very much focuses on certain areas, as it should. You see stress personally, for myself and for others I know who have had COVID-19, but you also do see it really across the board. Everybody is dealing with different types of stress at this point. In a leadership position, one of the things that you try to do is to provide that direction and sense of certainty when working towards getting through a particularly stressful time or trying to recognize that everybody is dealing with their individual stresses.
Chris: Was your team personally impacted by COVID-19?
Craig: Yes, we have been. I think that is true of many people in the United States. You want to support however you can with those particular team members or that external lawyer you work with.
Chris: Were there other crises that have hit the country and affected Anheuser-Busch?
Craig: Our head archivist at Anheuser-Busch, in St. Louis, provides tours that are fascinating. We’ve faced crises before, however, this is a different type of crisis. Every crisis is a little bit unique, but certainly, there have been difficult times for Anheuser-Busch as a company. We’ve faced the Spanish Flu and were around during world wars.
It’s too early to tell the full effect of this crisis, frankly, just because we’re in the middle of it, but Anheuser-Busch has been around for 160 years. We are certainly planning very hard to be around for another 160 or more years. Every crisis is unique and when you’re in the middle of it, you don’t know how it’s going to end and that’s part of the stress of it.
Chris: Are your facilities back in operation in China and other heavily impacted areas?
Craig: One of the things that I do is talk to other general counsels to find out how different operations are handling things in the US and other countries. We found in the United States, there’s a little bit of a reopening of the economy we’re starting to see here in May. In other countries, it’s been driven by public health data and how comfortable people are. One of the places I worked in the past is in Hong Kong, which has been pretty open. Other places have opened and closed down, so it really depends on the circumstances of the country.
Crisis Advice for General Counsel
Chris: Craig, what advice would you give general counsels right now?
Craig: Putting people first is essential, especially in the situation of a public health crisis. The impacts are both obvious and unobvious, so, trying to make sure that you’re able to motivate the team to meet their requirements is important. Your focus should be streamlining the priorities so everybody is clear on how to move forward.
Over communicating is another really important aspect with direct reports. With the broader team, make sure that people know what the priorities are for the company, but also for them as an individual. Fortunately, I’m proud to work at a company that puts people first, so that that makes things much easier.
Chris: Craig, what’s been the greatest challenge for you in this crisis with your role?
Craig: The greatest challenge is dealing with so much uncertainty. There are many unknowns related to individuals and their personal circumstances. Right in the beginning, there were a few cases in New York and some in San Francisco, but over the course of a couple of weeks, stay-at-home orders were being enacted across the entire United States. It wasn’t clear at that point what stores would be open.
Of course, when you have uncertainty on top of uncertainty; it’s multiplied. It’s really about making sure that you have the right priorities and then staying true to them. By having frequent touchpoints and communication, it certainly helps the organization move in a direction that is consistent with the broader benefit of the people, societies, and communities in which we operate.
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Transition to a New Normal
Chris: What is normal going to look like for lawyers, legal departments, law firms, and corporations right now?
Craig: It’s too early to tell because a month or a few months from now, there will be so many things that will seem antiquated. One of them is that people can be incredibly effective even when not in one place together. We’ve seen that efficiency with technology, in particular for example; Zoom. There is a lot of experimentation out of necessity so there will be an impact coming out of this with whatever the new normal ends up being.
We should also expect a resurgence of human interaction due to the forced experimentation of self-isolation. Bringing people together is at the core of our mission as a beer company, but it is also an inherent human need. We will see a massive effort for people to reconnect with each other; an effort that wasn’t very prevalent before.
Chris: For your employees that are working from home, when do you plan on bringing them back?
Craig: We have a large percentage of our population that is essential. Brewing beer is one of those jobs that can’t be done remotely; you need to be on-site for those. We have a number of people who continue to deliver beer and water to people as well as hand sanitizer to the Red Cross using PPE along with other safety procedures. Therefore, we’ve been watching the government and the health authorities very carefully when it comes to what’s required in those situations.
We have a large percentage of the workforce as well that’s working remotely. We know that for that percentage of the population at least through the end of this month of May we will be working remotely and then we’ll have to decide as we go forward what that looks like. There certainly will be changes to how close people sit together or to what the entrances into the buildings are like. We’re considering doing temperature screenings to make sure that people are fine and aren’t running a fever. There are a lot of nuances when considering what precautions to implement.
Chris: Craig, knowing this whole thing has been difficult and stressful for everyone, has there been any silver lining for you?
Craig: There are many negative impacts out there, and those are the ones typically focused on. When I think about a silver lining, one thing that I’m always pleased to see in a Zoom is when one of your kids or someone else’s kids pops in and you feel the mood change. There is much more appreciation that people are working really hard, but that they are people at the end of the day. They’re mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, siblings, and all the rest of it. There’s not the same divide as to when you’re working next to somebody in an office who you chat with a little bit or see a photo of their loved one on a mug. It’s different when you can see a three-year-old and what their life looks like.
Leadership Can Come from Many Places
Chris: Where have you seen great leadership so far in this?
Craig: In this crisis, there’s no one person we’re all looking to. Within Anheuser-Busch, our CEO of North America is someone who has a lot of expertise and clearly sets out strategic priorities to make sure that we have clear guidance for our compliance committee. You see everyone step up within our management committee, which is the crisis team, who meets every day.
In normal day-to-day life, you see people thinking about their function, team, goals, or objectives. In a crisis situation, I am fortunate to be part of a management team that really banded together and said, “Okay, what is it that we as a company need, but even more, what can we do to help the communities where we’re operating?” We, of course, want to make sure that we can continue to provide all the services that we normally do, but it’s ultimately about the people, communities, and our business that we’re focused on.
It’s been really amazing to see how our leadership at Anheuser-Busch has stepped up, but you see leadership in many places where neighbors are helping each other out. You see certain leaders who are communicating every single day so that people know what is being done and what the top priorities are. Leadership can come from many places and that’s what’s impressed me in many ways. It’s not necessary that leadership comes from a single centralized source or even a position of authority, although it can, it comes from people really stepping up and helping others in any way they can.
Chris: Craig, any final thoughts for my listeners on COVID-19?
Craig: No, I just wish that you and your family are safe and together. For those who travel a lot, especially, the benefit of being together can be underestimated. I’m sure there can be a lot of frustration when dealing with a family but it can also be wonderful and should be appreciated even more in this difficult time.
Chris: Craig, again, thank you. It’s been an honor and a pleasure. Thanks for your time today.
Craig: Thanks a lot, Chris. It’s great to speak with you and I hope you stay well.
Thank you to everyone who listened to this episode of the Law Firm Leadership podcast.