Craig Katerberg | General Counsel at Anheuser-Busch
Connecting with People | Leaders Who Inspire | The Weekly Email | Hiring Passion & Energy | Love for M&A | ExPat Stories & Family
I interviewed Craig Katerberg | General Counsel of Anheuser-Busch on Tuesday, February 25th, 2020.
We started the episode with Craig sharing his journey of how he became a corporate attorney and what led him to go in-house at Anheuser-Busch. We touched on what leadership means to him as well as people that have inspired him along the way. Craig discussed how he builds team as general counsel, and how they hire outside counsel and in-house talent. We touched on the role of legal tech and how it supports commercial strategy. Craig then delved into his love for M&A deals and examples of deals he worked on. We ended the podcast discussing his family, international travels, being an expat, and recommended reading.
Here are some highlights of my interview with Craig Katerberg:
Leadership is defined by the way that you act and how you create opportunities for people. It’s not about what you can achieve but what the team is able to achieve.
Allowing people to be their authentic selves is allowing people to do their best and making available opportunities for them.
When I’m looking for new outside counsel, I always look much more to who the lawyer is and what they are able to contribute more than the firm name.
I don’t tend to put a ton of weight on the GPA. We tend to focus more on what the person is excited and passionate about.
If you’re an attorney who wants to go in-house, make sure you’re connecting with people as often as possible. Also, doing great work is a baseline which sounds really simple, but is something that people recognize.
One of the things I love about M&A is that there are similarities but every deal is unique and is heavily influenced by the personalities and the motivations present.
You need the people who nerd out about the details of M&A deals. For example, if you can save half a penny in this area, but we can do it 14 billion times, then we’re talking about significant money.
We’ve seen a huge proliferation when it comes to the types of legal jobs out there and the number of non-law firms that are providing legal or even adjacent services.
My superpower is being able to connect with people. One-on-one, in particular, is one of the things that I’ve not had a lot of difficulties doing with people from lots of different backgrounds and cultures.
Links referred to in this episode:
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Straight Man by Richard Russo
Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez
Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow
I Just Became a General Counsel, What do I do Next? by Mark Roellig
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Greetings friends, this is Chris Batz, your host of The Law Firm Leadership Podcast. Today’s episode is number two of a two-part series where I had a conversation with Craig Katerberg, the General Counsel of Anheuser-Busch. In the last episode, we discussed all things COVID-19 and in this episode, we’re discussing his global M&A career, his leadership style, his passion for doing things better, going in-house advice, and much, 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-one 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 again with Craig Katerberg, General Counsel of Anheuser-Busch of St. Louis. Welcome, Craig, to The Law Firm Leadership Podcast. It’s great to have you on the show, again.
Craig: Thanks, Chris, a pleasure to be here.
How the Journey Started for a Fortune 500 General Counsel
Chris: Craig, you went to the University of Chicago. When did you realize that you were going to be a lawyer?
Craig: I was working for the city of New York. I ended up working a lot on different projects around the city doing neighborhood development, so there were many contracts involved with the neighborhood groups. The city’s law department was a function that I worked with a lot and they had some amazing lawyers who really inspired me.
Chris: What led you back to New York and eventually to Simpson Thacher?
Craig: Most people in law school were going through litigation because law school is taught very much around the litigation mindset. I knew that I liked doing contracts, deals, and all of the pieces related to that, so I wanted to be more in the corporate world building deals or putting contracts together. I did summer internships during law school and then afterward, had a desire to work internationally but primarily with Latin America. Simpson Thacher had a great practice in the area that interested me, so I began working with them even though I worked on a grand total of zero Latin American deals while there.
Chris: What was your interest in Latin America?
Craig: Latin American history was my major at the University of Chicago. I went down to Peru during one of the summers because I was frustrated at my inability to speak Spanish despite having learned quite a bit of it in high school. I spent the first half of the summer hiking around in Peru and my job every day was to speak Spanish from dawn till dusk.
Chris: Share with my listeners your path to in-house.
Craig: I liked working at Simpson because the work was fascinating. Simpson does a lot of private equity work, so I rotated through securities, did a little bit of M&A, worked with executive compensation, and employee benefits. For Simpson, that meant mainly working with the management team, sponsor companies, and also with the PEDL (Plan – Execute – Debrief – Learn) teams, so you’d see so many different transactions which were aspects that I enjoyed.
Then, a friend of mine who had also worked at Simpson and had transitioned to AB InBev gave me a call. She said: “There’s this position that’s open. They really like people with international backgrounds who want to try out new experiences, who jump into things, and I think you might be a really good cultural fit for the company”. I interviewed with them and really liked the people, culture, energy, open office, etc.
Chris: Is this the first time you got that opportunity to go in-house or were there others?
Craig: There were other ones but none that truly excited me. I was frankly more excited about the M&A aspect, securities law, working with really great people, and just trying something new.
Chris: Did you have the traditional ‘law school to law profession’ mindset or did you have a blank canvas mindset?
Craig: It was more of a blank canvas. I was working for the city government in New York and so the idea of working in the public sector as a public servant was already at the top of my mind. It was more about the opportunities that came up. I’m the first lawyer in my family so the idea of going to law school was not something I’d grown up with. I didn’t have my eyes set on a particular job, title, or even sector.
Leaders Who Inspire
Chris: Craig, who or what inspires you to be the leader that you are?
Craig: It certainly starts when I think about my parents and grandparents. The influence that my elders have had on not only my life but those of my children as well. I certainly value the education that my parents were able to give me and my siblings and the morals/values instilled in us primarily on working hard as well as treating people well.
I’ve had amazing leaders and mentors at various points for example; while at AB InBev, I’ve stayed in touch with many people. Our business president for Chile and Peru is someone who I’ve worked with for approximately eight years and have maintained a mentorship relationship during that time. She’s a great leader of the team, especially in people and finance roles. She’s a very inspirational person.
I would also include John Blood, our Global General Counsel and Head of Corporate Affairs, as someone who really wants the best for his people and the company. As a leader, that trait is incredibly important because the goal is to pave the way for your teams to make sure that they are able to develop at an efficient pace. The last individual to include is Sabine Chalmers who is also an inspiring leader. She sits on our board and serves as General Counsel of British Telecoms. Sabine is very personal, incredibly sharp, professional, and insightful when it comes to many things.
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Chris: Craig, how do you define leadership?
Craig: Leadership is defined by the way that you act and how you create opportunities for people. It’s not about what you can achieve or what’s attached to your name, it’s about what the team is able to achieve. Good leadership is also making sure that people know first what is expected, what the particular end goal is, and then ensuring that they are rewarded or recognized for their contributions. Allowing people to be their authentic selves is the final trait of good leadership, what that means is; allowing people to do their best and making available opportunities best suitable for them. It’s much less about what the leader does but much more about allowing the team to go in a direction that the business needs or developing people.
The Weekly Email
Chris: As General Counsel, what are some of the important routines that you implement either daily or weekly?
Craig: The first General Counsel position that I had was one that was based in Australia; it also covered India, Southeast Asia, and Australia. One of the routines that I began was a weekly email with the team which started off as ‘here’s where I am geographically this week’ because it’s easier to coordinate that way. It then grew to include shouts of recognition in the emails which is where I recognize certain actions that people have done that week. It can be about big milestones, or it can be about small things that are demonstrative of what’s important in the culture overall.
I found that the email was a very helpful routine for the team because it brought a bit more awareness on a recurring basis for people to understand whether it was a crisis going on in India or that Vietnam has this major upcoming festival, etc. That became a bit more of an understanding between people about all of the different challenges and the great work that teams are doing regularly. Now, I try to flag upcoming events and I always include a picture of the week, which sometimes connects with our larger strategy, and sometimes it’s just a funny photo of different people.
Anheuser-Busch’s Approach to Hiring Outside Counsel
Chris: Craig, how do you approach hiring outside counsel?
Craig: Anheuser-Busch is really blessed because we have over one-hundred years of relationships in a lot of cases and that includes some of the law firms that we’ve worked with. There are definitely instances where we’re looking for new counsel on different areas but it’s a very high benchmark for.
When I’m looking for new outside counsel, I always look much more to who the lawyer is and what they are able to contribute more than “Oh, what is the firm name?”. It’s about who would be best for this particular task and if they will be focused on our needs by putting the company first. Frankly, I also think that transparency, awareness, and the desire to do things the right way are all very important.
Chris: How large is your legal team right now?
Craig: We’re 78 in terms of the legal team but we have quite a few non-attorneys as well.
Supporting Commercial Strategy with Legal Tech
Chris: As far as legal technology, what challenges are you faced with?
Craig: For me, it starts with what it is that we’re trying to accomplish together as a team. The business itself has very clear guidance in terms of where we’re going on our commercial strategy. Then, it is a matter of how we can best support that commercial strategy and do it the right way. The right way is by doing it with integrity, following the law, and making sure that it’s as painless as possible for everybody who is either brewing or selling beer; which is the ultimate goal of our company.
One of the things that I find fascinating is what we’re calling Legal Operations 2.0. That is one of the ways that we’re fixing compliance with technology within the company. We generally start with where it is that business colleagues are spending a lot of their time both geographically and electronically. Once that is identified, we then familiarize ourselves with people’s experiences and interactions with the technology.
I normally start with the commercial side of the technology then move on to how to build in rules, algorithms, and other things that get called into question in the existing technology. If people are going about their day-to-day job, they don’t need to be thinking, “Oh, what is the law for Nevada?” They can be thinking about “Okay, am I able to do this? What shows up on the screen?” and then there will be pop-ups or other alerts for certain reasons.
There’s a lot of smart technology that’s ingrained within the system. It’s working with the commercial teams to be able to create something unique within our business so that not only do you keep people doing the right thing, but you’re also understanding the backend, the data, and the potential risk areas.
Hiring Passion & Energy
Chris: What do you look for when hiring legal talent?
Craig: I don’t tend to put a ton of weight on the GPA; even when schools and people are inclined to. We tend to focus more on what the person is excited about, for example; entrepreneurs, people’s involvement in society, political campaigns, work ethic, and roles within a firm or committee. We’re trying to identify someone by their integrity, hard work, attitude towards their job, work ethic, and also their willingness to learn. A lot of it’s probably more passion and energy with a baseline of the other things needed for success.
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Chris: Would you agree that clients are looking for candidates who are thrilled about serving on an in-house team?
Craig: Early in my career, I was talking with an investment banker at two in the morning working on a deal. He said to me, “I want the people who want to be there in the room with me at two or three in the morning, who want to be involved and want to be moving things ahead,” which sounds totally insane because everybody wants to be sleeping at those hours. At the same time I understand, there’s something thrilling when you’re putting a deal together and you want to be in the room and be involved.
Going In-House Advice
Chris: What’s your anecdotal advice for attorneys with a desire to go in-house?
Craig: Make sure that you’re connecting with people as often as possible. Also, doing great work is a baseline which sounds really simple, but is something that people recognize. Then, get involved in different organizations and reaching out to people who you think would be interesting or that have had interesting trajectories. The last advice was something that I benefited a lot from when I was trying to decide between one path versus another.
For the Love of M&A Deals
Chris: Can you highlight some of your favorite deals you’ve worked on and some things you learned from them?
Craig: Grupo Modelo was the first transaction that I worked on with ABI. It was fascinating because it involved the US, Mexico, and a lot of interesting follow-on transactions. The transaction ended up branching out into several transactions; one was worth $20.1 billion and the others were each worth over a billion dollars. It was a fascinating insight into the way that our executive team was interacting with all of the different external providers, not only the law firms but also the banks, public relations, our groups’ and communication experts. From there, I worked on different transactions, first in Korea but then in mainland China on which the dynamics were totally different. There have also been deals with Australia which is how we essentially bought the Australian business and incorporated it into the company.
Chris: What about these deals was so fascinating or exciting for you?
Craig: One of the things I love about M&A is that there are similarities but every deal is unique and is heavily influenced by the personalities and the motivations present. With Grupo Modelo, we have an ABI board member who is also a family member of the company’s founding family in Mexico. She was very involved in the leadership which showcased her motivation and desire to continue being a successful businesswoman. We’ve done private equity sales and buyouts as well, where you’re focusing primarily on IRR (Internal Rate of Return), return on investment, and a lot of financial concepts. Understanding the overall process, deal flow and timing is helpful because it gives you a bit of the context and orientation when going through a deal.
Chris: Do you enjoy the high-level pressure of the M&A deal or do you prefer the intricacies and the details?
Craig: That is a difficult one because I do love the overall flow of the deals and finding ways to add value, which can be done through dollar amounts, shortening timelines, or forming a different approach. When getting into the mechanics of a deal, it’s fascinating when you’re thinking about the due diligence and specifics such as how labels are printed on bottles in different parts of the world. Specifics like labels can have a major cross-impact in terms of what your operational costs are now and what they will be in the future.
All of those things add up in terms of synergies on deals because my belief is that most M&A deals are value destructive but I don’t exactly think the same of our ABI deals. We’re a great team that works through integration in a lot of those issues. But to be successful within that, you need to have the corporate cultures mesh and really good people come together. You also need the people who nerd out in a lot of ways about those kinds of details. For example, if you can save half a penny in this area, but we can do it 14 billion times, then we’re talking about significant money.
What Has Changed in the Legal Industry
Chris: Craig, what has changed for you about practicing law for the past ten years?
Craig: Going through law school, there was a path towards big law and becoming a partner. That desire is obviously still there, but I think we’ve seen a huge proliferation when it comes to the types of legal jobs out there and the number of non-law firms that are providing legal or even adjacent services. These services range from technology, branding, positioning, communications, reputation, and governance issues. People are exploring new models and are innovating in those spaces which is the new trend.
Being an Expat and Family
Chris: Which places did you enjoy the most when you were living overseas?
Craig: China was a fascinating place; I loved the people, and the food was incredible. I found that Shangai was, in a lot of ways, living in the future. I would also say Australia because of the unique culture most specifically in sports, food, and beer. Tasmania is one of my favorite parts of the world, which is a short flight or a short boat ride away from Melbourne.
Chris: What do you find so fascinating about Tasmania?
Craig: First, we have a gorgeous brewery there going back to 1824, which is the Cascade Brewery. The city of Hobart, which is a five-minute drive away, gets its water from the mountain behind the brewery and is also where a lot of ships for Antarctica leave from. It is also one of the earliest places to have White settlers in Australia and where the other penal colonies sent their prisoners. Tasmania has a unique Aboriginal history as well.
Chris: Can you tell me some of the differences that you’ve noticed being back in the Midwest, particularly in St. Louis?
Craig: The warmth of people in the Midwest is very noticeable and the portion sizes are a bit bigger than most parts of the world. One of the things I love about St. Louis is that there’s so much St. Louis pride.
Chris: Let’s touch on a few different subjects and get your ideas. What are your thoughts on Brexit?
Craig: Democracy is a wonderful thing that gives a clear direction even if the direction is not highly anticipated by people or experts. There’s always business disruption, which is certainly the case in Brexit which will continue to add additional cost and difficulties to businesses. This is true in any case where additional regulations are placed between different locations and is one of the reasons why the United States has been so successful due to the few restrictions they have placed on commerce.
Chris: You shared with me that your wife is Peruvian. How did you two meet?
Craig: We met in college while both attending the University of Chicago, as you mentioned. My wife’s roommate was from Michigan and mine was from Columbia so we had Michigan origin in common. Meanwhile, she and my roommate had the Latin origin in common which led to the initial conversation. From there, we spent a decent amount of time with each other, then started dating during the third year of college. We then moved out to New York together, traveled around Latin America, and Asia during that time as well. Things are going pretty well so far.
Chris: So she’s been on the adventure with you and a travel companion.
Craig: Yeah, and in a lot of the instances, she was the travel leader. She worked as a banker before and so when we moved down to Argentina and Panama it was because of her work. The first several years, her career was in the driver’s seat. Then for the last few years, she’s been working with the kids and doing private advising. She’s been very open and supportive during my job changes as well.
Chris: What do you guys tend to do to enjoy life outside of work?
Craig: We spend a lot of time together from baking to visiting her brother and his family in St. Louis. They have a new baby, so my kids like to be the bigger cousins. We tend to go out walking or hiking whenever there is the opportunity to explore new places. We’ll soon drive up to Chicago and hopefully, Kansas City to explore a few different areas. The biggest trip that I have planned for the kids right now is that I’m going to go take them camping somewhere where there’s no light pollution. They have to learn the constellations first, then we’re going to hit up the planetarium and then get out there and see what the night sky looks like without light.
Chris: Are you guys still making plans to travel to Peru this year?
Craig: Yeah, we do go down to Peru at least every year. That’s where my wife’s whole family is. They’re based in Lima and the food there is just incredible.
On His Bookshelf
Chris: Craig, tell me what’s on your bookshelf or what you recommend for my readers.
Craig: One that’s outside of my genre I would say is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. It’s mysticism wrapped in with the importance of storytelling set in a medieval world of some sort and is very fascinating. Realistically, if I go back to fiction, which is where I spend a lot of time, I would recommend anything by Haruki Murakami who is a Japanese writer. Straight Man, Richard Russo is somebody that I really like. Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote Chronicle of a Death Foretold that has an amazing structure and narrative to it, where you know the conclusion, but you don’t know all of the context and pieces that come into it. Ragtime is another one that I really like.
So I Just Became a GC, Now What?
Chris: Professionally, do you have any books that you recommend for law firm leaders?
Craig: It’s not even a book, but Mark Roellig is an attorney who I’ve had the pleasure to speak with and connect with at various points. He wrote an article that is, “So I Just Became the GC, Now What?” It has really practical, insightful checkpoints and ideas for how you go about structuring your team or the way you approach the role. It’s specifically about becoming a GC, but I found it helpful in any position. It also addresses how you tap into your creative energy and structuring yourself well for your success and for your team’s success.
Connecting with People
Chris: Last question, what are your superpowers?
Craig: I tend to like people and like spending time both with people and getting to know people. That’s something that I think most people do, but I tend to do it a bit more than most. If you think about superpowers, for me it’s just being able to connect with people. One-on-one, in particular, is one of the things that I’ve not really had a lot of difficulties doing with people from lots of different backgrounds and cultures. I like spending time with people and I like listening, frankly, a lot more than I like talking. I tend to be able to find areas of common interest or enthusiasm with many types of people.
Chris: Craig, it’s been an honor and a pleasure. Thank you so much for your time today.
Craig: No, Chris, my pleasure. It’s really great to speak with you. I enjoy the podcast a ton, so happy to be able to contribute.
Thank you to everyone who listened to this episode of the Law Firm Leadership podcast.