Graham Mackay, who helped turn South African brewery into global titan, dies at 64


SABMiller chairman Graham Mackay. (AP)
December 20, 2013

Graham Mackay, the SABMiller chairman who helped guide the company from a South African industrial conglomerate into one of the world’s biggest brewers, died Wednesday in Hampshire, England. He was 64.

The cause was a brain tumor, the company said.

Mr. Mackay helped lead the company, originally South African Breweries, through some of its most dramatic recent moments, beginning in the early 1990s when the late Nelson Mandela’s release from prison led to a lifting of sanctions on South Africa and offered the potential for the company to expand internationally. It has grown to own such brands as Miller and Foster’s.

Mr. Mackay “is the man who took South African Breweries from being a parochial South African company, if you like . . . and built it into being a first-class brewer,” said Roy Summers, chairman of the advisory board for the International Center for Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland. “He knew the company would go nowhere if it just remained a South Africa company.”

The beer business in Europe was dominated by the likes of Guinness and Heineken, but South African Breweries took advantage of the opening offered by the fall of the Berlin Wall to sweep into Eastern Europe and pick up assets on the cheap. Its growth also stretched to other African countries, including Mozambique, and to Asia.

But Mr. Mackay recognized that South African exchange controls and a depreciating rand constrained the company’s ambitions.

The company opted to return its corporate center to London, and Mr. Mackay became chief executive of South African Breweries upon its listing on the London Stock Exchange in 1999.

Meanwhile, he kept shopping. The company bought Czech Republic brewer Plzensky Prazdroj, maker of Pilsner Urquell, in 1999. Mr. Mackay led the purchase of Miller Brewing in the United States in 2002 and his company’s subsequent renaming as SABMiller PLC.

He also was instrumental in the joint venture between SABMiller and Molson Coors in 2008, the purchase of the Andean brewer Bavaria in 2005 and the acquisition of Foster’s in Australia in 2011.

SABMiller now has 200 brands and 70,000 employees in 75 countries.

The rise of the company paralleled to the ambitions of many in South African business who were eager to move past the stigma of sanctions and take a place in the international community. The low-key Mr. Mackay is credited with building a strong team, including several South Africans in senior roles.

“There would be the realization that they had to get on the world stage to achieve their ambition,” Summers said. “By getting on the world stage they would make more money — and invest it into South Africa.”

Ernest Arthur Graham Mac­kay was born July 26, 1949, in Johannesburg and grew up in South Africa, Swaziland and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

He earned degrees from the University of the Witwatersrand in 1972 and the University of South Africa in 1977. Mr. Mackay joined South African Breweries when he was 28, managing computer processing.

He underwent surgery for a brain tumor in April.

A complete list of survivors was unavailable.

— Associated Press

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