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Carlos Brito: 'Don't Sugarcoat Bad News'

Sugarcoating bad news will only lead to worse news, says the Anheuser-Busch CEO.

In 2008, Carlos Brito engineered the surprise buyout of Anheuser-Busch and its iconic American brands, in which they were brought under Brazil's InBev umbrella. A Stanford Business School graduate, the Brazilian-born executive held roles at Shell Oil and Daimler-Benz before joining Brahma, a beer and soft drinks company.

Over the years, as Brahma merged with other companies in Brazil, Brito's career grew with it. He became CEO of InBev in late 2005 and CEO of Anheuser-Busch InBev following the famous merger. A cost-cutter who refuses to sugarcoat news, Brito outlined his formula for turning a people-friendly company a great one at a View from the Top talk in November. 

Be Fair

Being fair doesn’t mean everyone should be treated alike, says Brito. "Our definition of fairness is that you have to treat different people in different ways. That's being fair. If you treat everybody the same, that's unfair." A business should be a meritocracy, and if that means sharp, young employees outperform their seniors, they will be promoted at Anheuser-Busch InBev. "That's fair," Brito says.

Be Informal

Informality goes beyond casual Friday. It's about facilitating communication across corporate boundaries. Instead of working in his own office, Brito sits at a large table with his direct reports close at hand. And other executives follow suit, says Brito, "because information flows. People can speak up. You don’t need to be booking meetings all the time." 

Be Candid

It’s not always easy to be straightforward with an employee, but talented people want to know where they stand. Brito evaluates his employees twice a year, and in the same one-on-one, 90-minute meetings, they evaluate him. Hesitating to tell an employee how to improve is a mistake--and patronizing. "You have to tell what's good, what's bad, and how you can help him recover and get back on track," says Brito. That's candor. 

Create a Culture of Ownership

Professionals just want to build their resume, while owners want to build the company. For example, one U.S. company Anheuser-Busch InBev acquired had a three-year vesting period. "We said forget it, that's shortterm," and Brito increased the vesting period by two years. "If they’re going to be here for 30 years, what's five years?"

Reward Success

Normally great results come with great efforts, but the two aren't exactly the same, says Brito. Customers are only interested in what you deliver. Some companies that don’t produce great results still pay bonuses and celebrate, "and that’s the beginning of the end," says Brito. 

Avoid Status Symbols

Brito flies commercial and stays in the same hotels his team stays at. He doesn’t have a company car or a driver or an office. Status symbols destroy the idea of an engaged group, he says.

Don't sugarcoat bad news

Some companies rebrand bad news as good news for the sake of morale. If a company has a Feel Good Department, Brito says, be sure to close it. 

This piece was originally published by Stanford Business. Follow GSB @StanfordBiz

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