What Carlsberg learned about M&A

ONE MINUTE BRIEFING: Anne-Marie Skov, former SVP at Carlsberg, explains how the brewer integrated acquisitions with very different cultures.

by Jane Nelson
Last Updated: 27 Nov 2018

A classic mistake when trying to integrate multiple companies is focusing on the cultural differences between them. It's a lesson that Carlsberg learned the hard way as it battled to integrate several major overseas acquisitions as part of an attempt to transform the Danish mega-brewer into an FMCG business.

Anne-Marie Skov, then senior vice-president communications and CSR at Carlsberg, and now director of the Tuborg Foundation (part of the Carlsberg Foundation, majority owner of the Carlsberg Group), was in charge of cultural integration.  

"We were integrating Kronenbourg and big brewers throughout Europe and Asia, all of which had their own unique identities. But we were also on a quest for growth and profit: we'd spent a lot of money on these acquisitions and we had to deliver a return for our shareholders.

"I set up a cross-national team of people to help. The first thing we sought to do was establish a set of values we could all agree on, based on what worked well in each of our companies. But what seemed like a pragmatic first step proved impossible to achieve. For example, we'd taken over a huge Russian company, Baltika, and although they oozed ambition, they rejected 'ambitious' as a value.

"We abandoned the attempt to agree on five determining values, and turned instead to behaviours. That worked really well for us. We came up with a set of winning behaviours that all companies and breweries could work with, and could translate into what they meant for them. But even that takes time. Kronenbourg, for example, spent a whole year trying to define what these behaviours meant for their business.

"I learned a lot personally - including the necessity of working in a truly cross-functional team, rather than one with a few token non-Danes. You find common ground because you have to.  

"But perhaps the biggest lesson the leadership team as a whole learned in trying to transform the business was to look at what united the different businesses rather than what separated them.

"There is a whole layer of cultures aside from the national culture, and for us the most important one - and one that we didn't at first pay enough attention to - is the brewing culture. We found that the brewers bonded across national cultures very early on because they shared really strong values around brewing, heritage, entrepreneurship and so on.

"But the influx of new types of leaders and competencies to drive the whole efficiency agenda led to comments like 'you've stopped talking about beer and started talking about liquid'. Once we stopped talking about FMCG and put more focus on craft brewing and brands it made other things easier to reconcile."

Key takeaways

Your strength is your diversity -- In order to understand the needs of a multinational business, you need cross-national teams.

Find a common bond -- Business is business no matter where you are in the world. Identify the ideas, behaviours and values that matter to your employees and use these to your advantage. 

For more information

Here are three ways to ensure your culture supports your brand. For an insight into life inside a newly acquired brewery, look at this piece from Camden Town Brewery founder Jasper Cuppaidge.

Image credits: AygulSarvarova/Gettyimages


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