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Heineken strongly denies whispers of APB unrest and ‘stifled creativity’

By Ben Bouckley+

04-Jan-2013

Heineken strongly denies to BeverageDaily.com that the resignation of several high-profile managers from its recent $6.53bn acquisition Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) attests to unrest at the Singapore-based firm.

Dutch brewer swallowed the Tiger Beer brand owner for S8bn ($6.53bn) on November 15, and has since worked to integrate the firm, which it first established as a JV with Fraser & Neave in 1931.

Jean-François van Boxmeer, Heineken CEO, said in October that the key rationale for the APB takeover was direct access to two of the world’s fastest-growing beer regions: Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands and China.

APB’s annual report released yesterday shows full-year 2012 revenues of S$3.35bn (+ circa. 11%) and net profit of S$366.2m (+7%), with CEO Roland Pirmez hailing the company’s “stellar results”.

High-profile resignations ‘personal decisions'

But the recent resignation of top executives – including Christopher Kidd, regional director for Indo-China; Leslie Buckley, regional director for Southeast Asia/Oceania; Loy Juat Boey, group finance director – surprised industry insiders.

Today Singapore-based news outlet Today Online quoted an unnamed ‘ex insider’ from APB, to the extent that there was some unhappiness within the firm regarding Heineken’s management style to date.

Claiming that reporting lines now stretched back to Heineken’s headquarters in Amsterdam, he told the paper that APB appeared to have lost its “independence and creativity”.

However, a Heineken spokesman strongly denied that this was the case, and told BeverageDaily.com this morning that the resignations were “personal decisions”.

“The business is going well, as reflected as well in the full-year figures from APB, and we have full confidence in the leadership team," he said.

“One mistake in the article relates to the change in reporting lines. We have not made any changes, the whole APB leadership team reports to the CEO of APB in Singapore, as they did in the past.

“So we have no fears regarding a lack of creativity or anything else.”

But how damaging was the loss of several experienced and high-profile staff to Heineken? “This is always regrettable, but was the decision of these colleagues, and we value and appreciate their work growing and building APB over the years," the spokesman said.

But he added that two of the new appointees - Bennett Neo, who will assume Chhabra’s role, and new chief financial officer Kenneth Choo - had a deep-seated knowledge of APB acquired over many years.

Heineken has 'good grasp of operations'

Asked whether Singapore-based analysis firm SIAS Research had heard any whispers of unrest within APB, lead analyst Ng Kian Teck told BeverageDaily.com: “On the leadership side it is very hard for me to comment, on the departure of specific people.

“But it’s not surprising to see some changes in the management structure, and if some personnel are unhappy, then they leave. This is quite possible.”

With a takeover of this kind, the buying company normally wanted to keep the current management team in place, Kian Teck added.

“But with APB things are very different, because Heineken in The Netherlands also has a good grasp of operations there, so it is possible for them to employ their own people,” he said.

The Heineken spokesman dismissed as “pure speculation”, Today Online’s claims that it plans to vacate its current office suite in Novena Square, Singapore, to move into APB’s headquarters at Alexandra Point, or to the latter’s brewery at Tuas.

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