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NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE: BHL’s new chairman meets the Press


PAT HOYOS

NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE: BHL’s new chairman meets the Press

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The newly-appointed, and by that I mean the mint-new, chairman of Banks Holdings Ltd, Marcio Juliano, made his first appearance at a news conference on Friday morning.

Then he said he had to leave right away because he had to go back to Brazil, and if he missed that flight, well, it would be rough.

This to me was the most interesting part of the Press conference. Was it a sign of things to come, I wondered, but not out loud.

The other interesting part was confirmation that the wrap-up of the company was almost complete, with 95 per cent of all the shares of Banks Holdings Ltd now in the hands of Ambev.

Ambev, a major subsidiary of the world’s largest brewer, AB InBev, passed the 50 per cent mark for control of the company in its takeover battle with ANSA McAl by Wednesday, December 2. It then acquired another four per cent or about 2.5 million shares the following week on the floor of the Barbados Stock Exchange, and has since received tenders for approximately 40 per cent more up to Friday.

Here is a brief summary of all the expected pleasantries the new chief of BHL shared with journalists.

• Juliano said he wanted to make it clear that Ambev’s overall goal was to grow the business, including the dairy and juice operations at the Pine Hill Dairy.

• He advised that he had only been appointed chairman an hour or two earlier and that the rest of the new board of directors had been nominated. They included a few non-shareholding directors from Barbados, he said, but no names were divulged.

• Juliano said no major changes were planned in terms of the workforce at BHL’s various plants, which besides the Pine Hill Dairy include the Banks brewery and the soft drink factory at Newton.

• He said the local teams at each operation were crucial to helping Ambev to grow the company to its fullest potential. At present, for example the brewery is only operating at around two-thirds of capacity, he said, producing just over 100 000 hectoliters when it could produce around 155 000 without scaling up.

• Juliano said the company wanted to continue its relationship with Coca-Cola in Barbados although it is the largest bottler of Pepsi Cola in Latin America, and he hoped the BHL subsidiary Barbados Bottling Co. would be successful in retaining its present contract with Coke, when negotiations start early in the new year.

• Apart from the growth potential within Barbados itself, Juliano said Ambev saw Barbados and BHL as key to its strategy for growing its presence in CARICOM, with Banks and other products. As for the famous Barbados brew, Juliano said Banks was an iconic Bajan beer and would remain the flagship brand for BHL.

In other words, all the things you would expect an incoming chairman to say. After the official event was over, I told Juliano that time and time again journalists were told by Banks how difficult other countries in CARICOM had made it for the previous owners to ship products to their markets.

You will remember the labelling fiasco to which the company was subjected in Trinidad, and more recently, the placing of a high duty on the beer by St Lucia, I believe. Not to mention problems we heard about in other countries, half of which I don’t remember.

So I asked him, if the whole idea was for Ambev to use Barbados, a member of CARICOM, as the base for increasing import-duty free exports to our often rather reticent-to-receive-them CARICOM neighbours, how would Ambev fare any better?

For the first time, Juliano flashed a kind of determined grin, and allowed that, well, that would be one of the challenges it faced.

I got the impression that, to paraphrase Rick in Casablanca, the troubles of a former stand-alone brewery may not amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world for the world’s largest brewer.

Patrick Hoyos is a journalist and publisher specialising in business. Email [email protected]

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