SABMiller : the internationalisation of a brewing giant

Nel, Roark (2015-04)

Thesis (MBA)--Stellenbosch University, 2015.


ENGLISH ABSTRACT: South Africa has developed a significantly large number of highly successful global firms relative to its economy size – as evidenced by the market capitalisation of the South African stock exchange representing more than 180% of the country’s gross domestic product, and its inclusion in the BRICS nations of leading emerging national economies. Whilst some of this success has been documented, the author found no evidence of the application of internationalisation theory to South African firms, whilst other emerging market research has yielded results that challenged early theoretical underpinnings and added value to a further understanding of internationalisation behaviour and motivation. SABMiller is the second largest brewer in the world and originated in South Africa. A great part of their success has been attributed to the culture and history of the organisation within its home market. The aim of this research report was therefore to uncover the drivers, strategies and critical success factors of SABMiller’s internationalisation move. Their motivations, enablers and modes of entry employed were further compared to extant literature in order to determine which, if any, theories are best suited to describe their process of internationalisation. This research report made use of a holistic, single, qualitative case study of SABMiller. Primary and secondary source data were collected in the form of semi-structured interviews conducted with 29 current and former senior managers of SABMiller or their investment partners, all of whom were involved in some degree with the organisation’s internationalisation. The individuals interviewed related experience pertaining to particular cross-sectional time-periods within SABMiller’s internationalisation process. Data were then examined using thematic analysis and compared to theories posited in literature on the subject. It was found that whilst extant literature on internationalisation provides useful, broad frameworks within which to analyse the paths followed by an organisation, a more holistic regard of the body of literature is recommended, particularly in analysing emerging-market multi-national enterprises (EM MNE) whose history and culture play a significant role in determining internationalisation behaviour. The role of SABMiller’s South African home culture as a differentiator, as well as the development of a deep talent pool in enabling rapid expansion, was telling in their success. Operating excellence was a competitive advantage in the majority of markets they entered, whilst their in-house mergers and acquisitions (M&A) competence, coupled with a distinctive partnering ability, demonstrated clearly the advantage of building and maintaining strong relationships and network positions when internationalising. SABMiller’s initial expansion sought to counter the threat of becoming a takeover target in their own right, as well as seeking new markets that were both affordable and could match the relative competitive advantages they had developed. As the company grew, their motivations expanded to a portfolio consideration of balancing risk and currency exposure in emerging markets, with more stable profit pool participation in developed markets. In entering new markets, SABMiller utilised a beachhead approach whereby their main aim was to secure entry to a desired market from which they would be able to expand further – through either organic market share gain, increased ownership of their joint ventures, or further acquisitions within the market. Firms engaging in foreign expansion for the first time need to understand clearly their relative advantages, to what they owe that endowment, and to what extent those advantages are sustainable in the face of global competition. Furthermore, locational advantages of a target country must be viewed relative to the competitive advantages they possess within the context of their product class, industry structure, nature of the knowledge to be transferred, and where the value generation lies within their structure. Global government priorities and political stability are varied and can have an overriding impact on a firm’s choices and ability to internationalise effectively. Investment into local communities and alignment to priorities of social development and environmental preservation are becoming increasingly important and internationalising firms need to factor this into consideration in order to increase their chances of success. The significant impact of governments on internationalisation is highlighted in the literature and is particularly evident in the case of SABMiller. With the added importance of investment towards societal goals, a study of the motivators and priorities of host governments may add value to firms in partnering effectively when internationalising, particularly within the realm of value chain development. The author further recommends research be conducted on the impact of South African culture on internationalisation success – particularly where expatriation forms part of a firm’s strategy, whilst the role of leadership as a differentiator in successful internationalisation is an area not explored extensively within this study, nor was significant reference found in the literature. It was uncovered as a significant theme in SABMiller’s expansion, however, and thus is an area that may warrant further exploration.

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