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Comment: SAB takes control in Milwaukee.

It was a big news week for Miller Brewing Company, with CEO John Bowlin's resignation, the closure of the Tumwater brewery and a face-lift for flagship Miller Lite.

SAB has most definitely taken command in Milwaukee. Major changes are afoot at Miller, after a decade of somnambulistic and wrong-footed management that has put the company into a kind of waking coma.

That blanket condemnation doesn't include Mr. Bowlin, an effective manager who happened be the right man at the wrong time. Taking control of a disordered company, Mr. Bowlin made a good start at regaining the confidence of wholesalers and reordering priorities at the brewery.

If SAB begins to turn things around at Miller in 2003, it will rest in part on the foundation that Mr. Bowlin has relaid. In fact, one can't help but wonder what Bowlin could have accomplished had he been tapped as Miller CEO in 1993. Perhaps there would have been no "Dick" to make Miller advertising a running joke, no draconian anti-wholesaler measures and no steady erosion of Miller market share.

There is no better example of Miller mismanagement than the performance of Molson U.S.A. under Miller's tutelage. Miller shifted brand management to Milwaukee, and proceeded to manage the Molson brands into hemorrhagic decline, even while the rest of the import segment was seeing year-on-year double-digit increases.

Miller's complacent business style might have worked out fine if the company was the dominant player in a mature business sector. Unfortunately, Miller was actually a beleaguered, rather distant number-two locked in bruising battle with an aggressive, super-competent Anheuser-Busch.

It may have been the Philip Morris mind-set at work. Executives probably felt safe under the umbrella of one of the world's largest packaged goods companies, and somewhat insulated from the hurly-burly of the beer market. All that is about to change.

Miller's laundry list of screw-ups spelled opportunity for SAB, which has made a name for itself as the turnaround expert for shaky third world breweries. SAB executives pride themselves on being tough-minded and adaptive, skills honed getting beer to market in places where paved roads are a distant memory and guerrillas take potshots at the trucks.

Now they've got a troubled first world brewery on their hands, and their work cut out for them. Miller doesn't need an infusion of Western technology, but it does need some of that SAB can-do spirit.

SAB has bet the farm on this one, and now they have taken firm control of the company. That's a start.
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Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 20, 2003
Words:418
Previous Article:Study reconfirms moderate alcohol benefits.
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