Anheuser-Busch InBev, commonly known as AB InBev, is a multinational drink and brewing company with a portfolio of over 400 beer brands. Based in 16 European countries, AB InBev has five different business units in 12 different time zones with 28 total breweries. To achieve a scale this large, AB InBev has dreamed big — and it inspires its employees to do so as well. That’s what attracted Alex Roussel, London Business School MBA ‘20, to the company.
Alex Roussel, who was born in Guernsey, attended university in London and worked in Singapore and Australia, wanted to continue his international path at a school that would allow him to stay globally mobile. Getting his MBA at LBS not only exposed him to a diverse international student and alumni network, but also paved the way for him to secure his role as Global People Manager at this renowned multinational company.
In this edition of Real Humans: Alumni, we hear how Alex’s flexible MBA program provided him with opportunities to step out of his comfort zone to help him thrive as he made the transition from a career in finance to People. Read on to learn more.
Alex Roussel, London Business School ‘20, Global People Manager at AB InBev
Hometown: Guernsey, Channel Islands
Undergraduate Institution and Major: University of London, Heythrop College: BA Theology
Graduate Business School and Graduation Year: London Business School, MBA Class of 2020
Pre-MBA Work Experience: I was an international private banker working in Singapore and Australia. Before the MBA, I was advising private clients across South Asia and Australia and working with intermediary partners to grow the business. We were a small local team but with the support of the wider company, so I feel I had best of both worlds. The challenge of managing clients, some easier than others, and keeping pace with the markets made no two days the same.
Why did you choose to attend business school?
I realized I wasn’t looking for a long-term career in banking or finance, but I didn’t have all the skills to make the transition I wanted, so it was time to go back to school. I did think about part-time study but often find that part-time becomes spare time, so I wanted to attend business school to create the space to properly explore and learn.
Why London Business School? Which factors influenced your decision?
I chose London Business School because of the international students and alumni network. I was hesitant to return to London, having lived and worked there before as I wasn’t looking for a post-MBA role in London, but the diversity of the students in both pre- and post-MBA reassured me I could stay globally mobile. The flexibility of the course structure also appealed to me as I hadn’t decided on any specific path at that stage.
What was your internship during business school? How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
I found an internship with an investment prop-tech start-up who had just received their Series A funding and were about to start scaling. They needed a People Strategy & Operations intern to help start to build their People function from scratch. By this time, I’d decided I wanted a career in People, so was exclusively looking for this niche and got lucky that the right role came up at the right time through the LBS network. I was excited to be part of a company at an early stage and wanted to test myself in the chaos of hyper-growth and my new industry. Having worked with commercial real estate in a prior role, it provided a perfect transition from a career in finance to People, as I could understand the underlying business dynamics but got to see the business from an entirely new perspective.
Why did you choose to work for your current company?
I knew I wanted to be in People, but it was very important to me to find the right culture and team. My AB InBev journey started as I was looking exclusively for People roles and the opportunity came again through the LBS network. It very quickly became top choice as I learned more about the company culture. As I researched, had beer chats, and went through the interview process, the more I could see this was the right place for me. Luckily, they agreed too. The culture is more like a start-up: crazy ambitious, moving very fast, valuing ownership, autonomy, and informality, but with the benefits of a large organization and the inclusive support of peers and leaders. I was struck by the candor and transparency of the team in my interviews and the values of the company resonated with me.
How did your MBA experience prepare you for your current career?
The most impactful way the MBA prepared me was giving me many opportunities to try new things and fail forwards into learning and growth. It really sucks to fail at something. I still struggle with this, and the imposter syndrome being surrounded by so many talented people at business school only accentuates that. It’s the same at my company. However, I slowly learned to handle this better, share my vulnerabilities and found ways to learn and grow through each of these experiences. At AB InBev you’re encouraged to dream big and so when things don’t quite go to plan, it is the resilience to keep going and find a way forward that is key.
How has COVID impacted your industry/career plans?
For our wider business, COVID has had a huge impact across the F&B sector, with consumer trends shifting rapidly from on-trade to off-trade as bars and restaurants closed (outright alcohol bands in some countries), demand increasing for lightweight cans and the ever-accelerating move to e-commerce.
From a People perspective, it was one of the largest natural experiments in history. The radical shift to working from home put pressure on everyone. We had to prioritize the health and safety of our teams, find new ways of working at incredible speed and somehow continue to keep the business on track. It proved to me, and I hope others, the value in the People function in supporting the business, continuing to invest in your people, trusting them to do the right things and continually listening to support them and their needs.
What advice would you give to a current MBA student?
Really take the time to explore! It’s likely a once in a lifetime opportunity. Explore yourself in terms of what you want from a future career and life. Explore all the learning available. Explore the world (travel permitting!) and explore your peers to create new relationships and connections.
What do you wish you would have known? Is there anything you would have done differently?
I wish I had known that everyone else was suffering imposter syndrome too! If I had my time again, I would have spent even more time connecting with different people and travelling.
Learn about more business school alumni like Alex Roussel by exploring our Real Humans: Alumni series.