The MT Interview: Graham Mackay

He knows more about beer than anyone else on the planet, it is said, and the way he has turned a South African conglomerate into a world force in brewing in 15 years seems to prove it. SABMiller's thoughtful boss choreographed all the moves - and the dance isn't over yet.

by Andrew Davidson

Up on the first floor of SABMiller's base in Mayfair, central London, Graham Mackay sits like Caesar in repose, all hooded eyes and hawk nose under tightly shaven head. Power rests easily on him: he barely moves, just occasionally smoothing the surface of the table in front of him with his hand. In his smart pinstripe suit, red braces visible beside silk jacket-lining, and purple handkerchief just popping out of his top pocket, he presents a spotless exterior. Only when he speaks, with barely a twang of his native South African left in his accent, do you get a sense of the man underneath. Every response comes after what seems an agony of consideration - the pauses pregnant with earnest cogitation.

He doesn't like giving interviews, it is said, but if so, he's too polite to show it, offering to every question the respect of a fully thought-out answer. Just occasionally he looks exhausted. He is, by reputation, a man of some stamina, who has built his brewing group into one of the biggest beer firms in the world. But he is also on his second marriage, and has a new family, with three children under six to add to the three grown-up children he has from his first marriage. At 56, being woken up regularly by his toddlers, then putting in 12-hour days running the $14 billion-turnover SABMiller group, he should be completely knackered.

He smiles gently when I put it to him. 'I got woken at five past five this morning; 10 to five yesterday.' That's hard. He shrugs. He travels three weeks out of four, getting about the global SABMiller empire, and is grateful to see as much of his family as he can. For a man who prides himself on his hands-off approach to heading the company, being hands-on with his family is important.

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