Andrew: Brewing the Future

As Global Innovation Brewer at ZX Ventures, Andrew Stadnyk manages all pilot brewery operations, CAPEX, and expansions. Hoping to find out what that actually means day to day—and to hear the insights on the industry he’s gained along the way—we asked him a few questions. The throughline: dreaming bigger, both in your career and in the beverage world at large.

What does your role as Global Innovation Brewer entail?

My work focuses on helping to understand—and to create—the near-term and long-term future of brewing. That includes beer, but doesn’t stop there. I also manage our brew house at ZX.

My projects can range anywhere from evaluating new yeasts, to helping understand the optimal country-by-country technical approach to low-alcohol brewing. (The definition of “low alcohol” varies depending on where you are!)

Engagement is also central to our mission: we use the brew house to teach people about beer in tangible ways. With typical commercial breweries, you can’t just walk in and ask to try out your crazy brewing idea on their equipment; here, you can.

How did you land at ZX Ventures?

I was hired into this role after a 10-week training/internship program. Applying in the first place was a bit of a moonshot—it sounded amazing and I thought, what if they actually let me do that? Turns out: they did!

What surprised you about your job?

It’s been a trial by fire—I’ve learned an enormous amount. After two months, I found myself in charge; before this role, I’d only experimented with homebrewing, so it was a lot more responsibility as a brewer than I was used to. Sink or swim. So I jumped in, consulting manuals when necessary—and when that didn’t help, I’d go deep on YouTube tutorials.

What does Dream Bigger mean to you?

This job was a dream of mine. Doing it well requires going the extra mile—as a former homebrewer dealing with people who’d been technical brewers for 20 years, I had to learn fast.

Part of why I love working here is that we get to “dream bigger” for the brewing industry as a whole: how can fermented beverages connect with even more people, in even more ways? How can we create sustainable change, whether that’s creating healthier options or helping consumers connect with the planet? That means tackling big challenges head on; helping create new and more delicious low-alcohol brews is a good example.

How do you see brewing evolving a decade from now?

The more I learn about beer, the more I see it as an evolving reflection of the times and places in which it is brewed. We don’t think about this as often as we do with something like wine, but brewing choices aren’t always based on what styles are popular: they’re also based on local resources, how receptive the soil is to growing certain ingredients, and so on. As people start paying more attention to ingredients and labels, I hope beer terroir becomes a well-recognized thing!

More than that, the beers we choose to drink, the ways we brew them, the occasions we choose to celebrate—these are all expressions of the ways people interact with each other, their worldviews, and what their daily lives are like. People today want more experiences and more flexibility. They also want a wider range of healthy options. Beer can do all of these things and more. Brewers are great engineers. Anytime you’ve got demand, supply will find a way.

IMG_2569.JPG

Connor: An Operator's Path to ZX

Connor clydesdales.jpeg

“So why do you want to work for AB In Bev?”

“I don’t”.

I think I managed to not say it out loud, but I’m not 100% sure.

I was a little taken aback, I’ll admit. I had very clearly addressed my application and cover letter to ZX Ventures. At the time, candidates from schools without on-campus visits from ZX were interviewed by the same pool of ABI employees as the rest of the GMBA class. Additionally, this was my first MBA job interview, first real job interview in nearly 5 years, and I had prepared as if I were applying for a Corporate VC job. I had spoken with a previous ZX Intern through Ross, and had attempted to reach out to other ZX contacts, but I’d had little success. So I’d prepared for the interview I thought I was going to be having to the best of my ability, but not only was I nervous about the interview ahead of time, I was also a little flustered in the first of two first round interviews because it was a different than I thought it would be.

Thankfully, I had been in the beverage world before B-School, had done a lot of research leading up to the interview, so I was comfortable with the beverage industry questions, and got in to a good enough rhythm to able to tailor my “Odyssey” to a bit more of a large company mentality. My background in a scaling beverage company had given me a lot relevant experience, and meant that I could speak about being part of a culture of ownership, so I was able to make it through the interview well enough to move on, with the admonition of one of my interviewers that “you need to decide if you want to work for a big company or not”.

And that was the crux of it: I didn’t. Before Business School, I had been the Operations Manager of a whiskey company. When I started in Ops, we had a bottling operation, and 1 warehouse employee. We built out warehousing to 10,000 barrels, started a farm-to-glass distillery, and grew the operations team to 15 people. As a first-time manger, I learned a ton. I worked directly for the COO/CFO, and after about 2 years, I realized a few things: that the pace at which I was learning had slowed down, living in a town of 10,0000 people was not sustainable for me, and that I wanted my boss’s job, for which I was in no way qualified. Business school was a logical way to solve all 3 issues: Learn rapidly at school, relocate, and put me on a path where I could go run small, ambitious companies. That was my dream, getting a bigger piece of a smaller pie, as I thought of it. At school, I stuck to that thesis, working to upskill, avoiding getting distracted by consulting or banking, which come first in the recruiting cycle, and only applying to opportunities that would get me where I wanted to be. Whence came ZX Ventures.

In my first semester, I had been accepted to the Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund, a student-run VC fund at Ross. As I began to work with startups in the local Ann Arbor ecosystem, I realized that investing in startups was in some ways similar to joining them: working with small teams to rapidly to achieve ambitious goals. This led me to a succinct thesis for my career goals: I want to operate and invest in growing companies, which led me to ZX.

Venture is notoriously hard to break into as an MBA, but my background at the whiskey company gave me a conversation starter, so I began to reach out to what network was available to me, and dropped a resume. Most VC jobs, even corporate ones, as well as the other startup jobs I was looking into, didn’t start recruiting until March, and so I went through the process with ZX, and received an offer before I had even formally applied to any other jobs.

I was thrilled with the offer, and as I had gone through the process, I learned a lot more about ZX, and about the ZXLerator. I felt that ZXLerator would allow me to practice the operator skills that I wanted to develop, as well as explore the corporate venture world. I had a great summer, learning a ton through the ZX OS, and helping to build an RTD wine cocktail to compete with the then-drink of the summer, the Aperol Spritz, and once again, I received an offer, which I accepted almost on the spot. My thesis remained the same, I wanted to invest or operate in exciting, high growth opportunities. However, my experience over the summer and my interactions with the company showed me that I could pursue either of those within ZX.

At ZX, I am on the Explore team, which is tasked with investing in and developing growth opportunities that will be business units for the company in the future. The team contains both an investment fund and new business operations. Currently my project is driving growth through business model transformation within the ABI supply chain. I am, in effect, running a business that is commercializing supply within ABI. It has all the hallmarks of a startup: small team, big dream, trying to achieve ambitious targets through innovation, but with one key difference: I have the resources of ZX Ventures, and all of ABI, behind me as we try to envision the future of the company, and then make it happen. ZX is enabling me to dream at a scale way larger than I thought possible.

Rita: Advice to Early Career Talent

rita lucia yoshina

Hear from Rita, the People Director in ZXV Europe, on "6 Things I Wish I knew Early in my Career"

Early in my career I had an idea of a scalable concept store that I would build from scratch. I had very little experience but of course at the time I didn’t realize just how little. I was so sure I was going to succeed that I quit my job (that, by the way, paid for my business school) and jumped off of the proverbial cliff. I thought by just dreaming about it and visualizing it, my dream would materialize by the time I reached the ground.

It didn’t.

Instead it did two things.

First, it gave me the biggest punch in the face I ever got and made me realize how much I still have to learn. Next, it gave me a second chance. So I found an amazing company and embarked on an exciting journey in HR, which allowed me not only to grow in my career but in my personality too.

Nine years is a long time, especially when you live and work in 4 different countries over 2 continents in 5 different roles. You would think people in different cultures speaking different languages must have different mindsets too, yet I’ve seen not one but many similar patterns over the years.

One of these patterns I’ve noticed is young, ambitious people making the same mistakes early in their career. These might be well necessary to allow that individual to mature and grow (like my experience did for me) but I wish I knew these when I was younger. And as much as I’m a big fan of personal development through experience I also like to believe that not every learning has to come from our own mistakes.

So here’s my advice to help you along the journey of dreaming bigger and building the awesome career that you’ve always dreamed of:

  1. There’s no such thing as being too ambitious but don’t overestimate your experience. People often come to me for career advice. When a junior sales representative told me that he’d done sales for a year and he now knows how to sell, so wants to do something else, I was speechless for a split second. To top this, he spoke to me as he was interested in joining HR, and it turned out he also spoke to two other leads about wanting to join their functions. Now it’s absolutely fine not knowing what you want to be at a young age. It wasn’t until I turned 29 that I realized I really wanted to be in HR. And I made a mistake by not asking. So if you’re not quite sure, don’t rush it. And this leads to my second point:
  2. Be curious, speak to your senior colleagues or leaders, and ask questions. Don’t be afraid that your question might not be a killer one (I made myself a fool quite a few times trying to ask The question that would blow everyone away). If your interest is honest, people will see it. That said, don’t try and pretend you’re interested because that’s when you find yourself in that “what a stupid question I asked” situation. By speaking to your senior colleagues or leads you will not only learn a lot, but build your internal network too which will become a strength and it might also help you land in awesome projects and opportunities.
  3. Things don’t happen immediately most of the time, so be patient. No, I don’t mean you should sit back and relax – quite the opposite actually. By being patient, I mean being humble. If you accept the fact that we’ve all been there wanting to change the world and that you have a lot to learn even if you don’t know why and how, you can become the one who finally changes the world for the better. But be ready for a challenging journey ahead because things don’t happen just because we deserve it.
  4. Don’t mix up the order. First you work hard, and then you get the reward. Life would be a piece of cake if it was the other way around. Again, I’ve seen many talented young professionals who were banging their hands on the table to get a promotion because they believe they should already be at that level. With this approach, you actually achieve the opposite: a virtual stamp to your virtual grade book saying you’re immature. Ok, ok, you say, how do I show that I can do it to get to that desired next level? It’s simple - do it! How many times we’ve said, “Oh if it was me I would do this or that”. So do it. Set your goal, make the plan, get the buy-in, and go for it. If you’re achieving your results in your role, they won’t stop you. At the end of the day you’ll be making them a better leader, too. Just don’t forget to deliver on it. I’ve seen way too many unfinished dreams. If you really want that dream, you will reach it, otherwise you didn’t want it that much.
  5. It’s your dream, your plan, so make sure you own it. Ownership: we hear this cliché word a lot, and it took me a long time to feel comfortable using the word although I’ve always understood what it meant. My mother used to tell when she asked me to do something: “Ne úgy csináld, hogy más is hozzáférjen”. Little did I understand what she meant by it until many years later. If I attempted to translate, it would mean something like “Whatever you start complete it” and in hindsight she actually taught me ownership. No matter what I do, I should always complete what I started, to the best of my ability so I don’t leave it to others to finish.
  6. Don’t burn bridges. It’s easy to get excited by a new opportunity but before you act too quickly, ask for advice. That’s what your HR team is there for - whether you are unsure or need coaching, they're your go-to people— and trust me, they will happily advise and give you guidance.

Punches in the face are never a positive experience but in hindsight we can always find the reason: they are here to teach us a lesson. The good news is: the more you learn from them the less punches you’ll get and just don’t stop. #dreambigger

Paul: Dreaming Bigger @ ZX

MVIMG_20190930_120039.jpg

Prior to Columbia Business School, I was a brand strategy consultant. I worked with top companies across the CPG and retail space. I took on global projects, helping billion-dollar brands to identify consumer trends and craft corresponding strategies to drive topline growth. I loved the work, but I was tired of hopping from project to project, from company to company.

At Columbia, I aimed to find a marketing or strategy role at one of the very companies I had consulted for. I wanted to help build and grow a company over the long-term. My only point of concern was entering the bureaucracy of a large organization. As a consultant, I had seen passion and great ideas get crushed by this bureaucracy. I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to help build great products and brands at a global scale, but I wanted to do it without any of the restrictions or red tape that too often come with large organizations.

I considered and subsequently ruled out company after company – until I found ZX. At ZX, I saw the opportunity to work on deliver impactful work on a truly global scale. With the infrastructure of AB InBev available to them, brands in ZX are supercharged for growth. Additionally, with its distinct organizational structure, ZX is free from the restrictions of a large organization. This marriage of a startup mentality with the resources of a large organization was immediately appealing to me.

Today, I partner with our Craft and Specialties beer brands to help them drive growth. I take on 3 to 4 projects a year, which can be anywhere in the world spanning Strategy, Supply, Sales or Marketing. Next week I will be in Korea working to optimize our product portfolio as the craft revolution begins to take hold there. After this project wraps up, I will either find myself in Argentina or the UK.

At ZX, I am truly an owner. I work with our teams in market to find projects where I can deliver impact. I then go out and execute. Because we are part of AB InBev, we have the connections, experience and resources to have a huge impact. Because we are ZX, we have the freedom to operate nimbly and dream bigger.

I have been blown away by the opportunity ZX has afforded me, and I am excited to see where my path goes from here.

Jillian: Why ZX?

Here is a picture of me with VIVE – the beverage we built during my summer in Zxlerator!

Here is a picture of me with VIVE – the beverage we built during my summer in Zxlerator!

I didn’t go to business school intending to start a business, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to become a founder almost immediately upon arrival at Wharton. It felt like everyone I spoke to was trying to start some sort of venture. I’ve always considered myself to be somewhat entrepreneurial in spirit, so I figured why not at least consider it. I started thinking about potential industries, spinning my wheels to identify the next ‘billion-dollar idea’ (like every single other first year MBA). It was a very humbling exercise. First, I lacked any in depth, industry-specific knowledge, which made it virtually impossible to identify salient pain points. Which brought me to another, potentially larger issue. Even if I were to identify a real problem to address, what right did I have to win? Prior to Wharton, I had spent 3 years working in Sales and Trading at a large investment bank. I had never worked in any of the sleeker industries like retail, biotech, or food and beverage. I had no pre-existing connections, no real networks to leverage. I would be starting from scratch… and frankly, starting from scratch is scary.

I have always struggled with the notion of ‘risk aversion.’ In business school, ‘risk aversion’ is perceived as a negative thing. But I argue that a healthy level of risk aversion can actually be incredibly valuable. I realized very early on in my Wharton career that while I may be entrepreneurial in spirit, I also carry a healthily degree of risk aversion. I do want to build my own venture, but I don’t want to have to start from scratch to do so.

Insert ZX Ventures. The perfect marriage of best-in-class industry knowledge, venture-led thinking, and high-performing teammates to de-risk the entrepreneurial process.

ZX Ventures offered me the opportunity to flex my founder muscle in a relatively low-risk environment. The ZXLerator MBA internship program gave me the team, the money, and the industry resources necessary to solve a real consumer problem and scale a viable business over the course of just one summer. ZX Ventures has one of the best MBA internship programs out there. I’m biased, but it’s true. Where else are you presented with a budget, a problem, and 11 fully-dedicated weeks to go solve it?

In my fulltime role here at ZX, I sit right next to a huge poster that reads: “Only invent if you need to.” ZX is not interested in recreating the wheel. We are interested in leveraging our resources, capabilities, and unparalleled industry expertise to push the beverage category further, fueling growth for AB InBev well into the future. If you’re like me - someone interested in building their own business, working with talented, passionate people, and gaining the tangible industry knowledge necessary to create solutions to address real consumer problems – ZX is the place for you. Because at ZX, you don’t have to start from scratch. You have the support of a $56bn global beverage leader behind you. Now that sounds like a pretty great set up for success.

Connor: Reflections

Connor.jpg

I was first introduced to ZX Ventures in the Fall of 2016, a month into my first year at Columbia’s Business School. I was sitting in the library, trying to figure out this whole modeling/excel thing I’d heard so much about, when a friend swung by and asked if I was going to the ZX Ventures presentation. Honestly, a little unsure of what ZX was, my plan that day was to wrap up work and head home. Luckily, my friend said the magic words “there will probably be free beer,” which was good enough for me.

That afternoon sent me on brand new path. The ZX Ventures’ employees at the event, who were recent MBA grads, impressed me from the start with the challenges and roles they had already experienced in their brief tenure at the company, as well as the responsibility they were given early and often. Their passion for creating the future of an industry was simply infectious. They weren’t shy about emphasizing that ZX Ventures is a culture-driven organization, a company that believes in true ownership. I learned how ZX believes People are their greatest asset, and that the best environment for their people is informal and meritocratic, offering roles outsizing employees’ experience to give them challenges they have to stretch and grow into. As an added bonus, the beer was delicious. I was hooked.

As a summer intern in the 2017 Zxlerator, I learned the “ZX Operating System,” a methodology for bringing a company from ideation to launch by actually doing it – rolling up my sleeves with a team and getting out in the real world to solve real consumer problems. I started to see firsthand that people at Zx didn’t just talk the talk about culture, I was surrounded by ownership. Employees of all levels would take the reins on massive challenges, bringing passion and creativity to launching new businesses with an obsessive customer focus. I lived the highs and lows of entrepreneurial life in the accelerator, and started to believe in the methodology that so defines ZX’s approach: identifying an opportunity, dreaming big in its potential, and figuring out how to efficiently execute the mission.

I knew if given the opportunity, I would join ZX Ventures full-time, but I was unsure about what my first role would be. Should I lean towards something in my wheelhouse, and leverage my previous experience? After the expedited learning curve forced on me into the new role of an entrepreneur over the summer, I decided to aim for my next role to be completely outside my comfort zone to continue this rapid growth. I ended up joining the Finance team this June, and have been working on ZX’s strategic planning and resource allocation processes ever since.

ZX Ventures is the kind of place that encourages these types of challenges. I’m often reminded of Pedro Earp’s comment at one of our school events, “we want to push people out of their comfort zone so that they are in a position to grow. We want to find that job that you may be uncomfortable in for six months, good at for six months, then great at for six months. Then we’re going to find the next job you’re uncomfortable in, and cycle goes on and on.” I’ve seen firsthand how this ethos combined with a meritocratic reward system empowers employees to drive their own career path, attacking new and exciting challenges that peak their curiosity and passion.

I’m just beginning my journey in this company, and while the innovative exponential growth challenges are amazing, the people inspiring, and the culture empowering, this idea of Sisyphean dedication to improving yourself is what makes me most excited to get to my desk in the morning.

From my position, I’ve seen the large challenges we’ve set for ourselves in 2019. We’ve continued the practice of dreaming big, and expect great results from our teams around the world. And while I don’t know what comes next for me personally, I can’t wait to find out which road I’ll need to rise to meet next.

Kendra: What’s an Intrapreneur?

Any derivation of the word “entrepreneur” coupled with a company that brings in over $50 billion in annual revenue probably seems like a divergent concept.

At least, that was my impression when I first heard about the opportunity at ZX Ventures.

I was in my first year of business school at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and had just stepped away from being an entrepreneur for close to three years. I had founded a company called Spice & Spoon, a cocktail services platform (think cocktail classes executed by mixologists for private parties and corporate team building/events).

I was bitten by the entrepreneurship bug and felt strongly about ownership, building new things, and solving consumer problems. On the other hand, I was exhausted by the struggle for resources, access to the right people, and financial limitations.

Coming into my MBA program I was hyper-focused on food & beverage innovation and looked across opportunities in various companies. If I had to summarize what drew me to ZX, it would be three things:

  1. Opportunity to learn (from people and process),
  2. Real authority and ownership (in a major way that I did not see elsewhere), and
  3. Big dreamers (a reflection of the passion and enthusiasm you might not expect from an industry giant).

Fast forward two years and here I am, working to build a startup within an existing company. When people ask what I do, I sometimes say “intrapreneur,” other times I’m a “founder,” a “global manager,” or that I work in “new product innovation.” All of these titles and associations are true. As amorphous as this may be, the way I describe what I do is the perfect characterization of what my job entails – constant evolution and bringing together dichotomous mindsets and processes.

At its core, I am an employee of Zx Ventures, the global growth and innovation group within Anheuser-Busch InBev, paid a salary like any other company employee; however, I’m given the freedom and decision-making rights of an entrepreneur.

I control my product, from recipe to design; I own my execution strategy; I pitch to raise money internally, just like an independent founder might pitch to a VC. Funding is in no way guaranteed, and there’s a burden of proof. I have ownership, I’m building something new, and I’m solving a consumer problem.

Overall, this job sounds pretty awesome right?

And it is. It is awesome. When operating within this kind of structure, the benefits are countless: from deep industry knowledge, to distribution, to best practices, not to mention the greatest asset—access to the best and the brightest people. However, I’ve had to learn how to overcome different types of challenges from the ones I overcame in my days as an entrepreneur. The constraints are real, and the expectations are high.

I can also say what I do as an intrapreneur is not unique to the rest of the company; at least not at the heart of it. My fellow MBAs have started building careers across our many functions, from marketing, to finance, to strategy. We call ourselves a company of owners – so no matter the function, we are all constantly challenged to be drivers of our change. It may not be in everyone else’s job description, but from my perspective, at Zx Ventures we’re all intrapreneurs.

Kendra, GMBA Class of 2018, a pitching on Demo Day during her Zxlerator internship. She’s now a full-time “intrapreneur” as a member of the Explore team.

Kendra, GMBA Class of 2018, a pitching on Demo Day during her Zxlerator internship. She’s now a full-time “intrapreneur” as a member of the Explore team.

Jessica: My Trek to Patagonia’s Best Kept Secret

Read from Jessica Douglass, GMBA Class of 2018, on a journey to Patagonia as part of the GMBA Deep Dive!

Read from Jessica Douglass, GMBA Class of 2018, on a journey to Patagonia as part of the GMBA Deep Dive!

As a GMBA program participant working within ZX Ventures, I have invaluable opportunities to learn about many different parts of the company through our sessions and regional “Deep Dive” programming. A Deep Dive is a week where the entire GMBA cohort travels to an Anheuser-Busch InBev zone to hear from executives and experience the local ways of doing business. My cohort just returned from an incredible trip to Argentina that brought the company to life in a brand-new way.

The first half of the week was in the city of Buenos Aires, learning about the local marketing challenges, how they’ve successfully repositioned some major Argentinian brands, and how that’s translating to a sales strategy on the ground. We visited the Quilmes brewery and experienced a beer pairing with (delicious) local foods. But I think my entire class would agree that the most impactful part of the trip came towards the end of the week, during our trip to Patagonia.

When we stepped off the plane in the town of Bariloche, I could hardly believe my eyes: the sun was setting behind a vast stretch of mountains. The next morning was even better, waking up to the glistening lake waters nestled between snow-capped mountains. But of course, the best moment of the trip was arriving at our Patagonia microbrewery, situated at the top of a hill overlooking the expansive scene I just described. Sipping a 24.7 Session IPA while surveying one of the most beautiful landscapes I’d ever seen was a moment I’ll never forget.

It really drove home what an incredible insight the Patagonia brand team has landed upon: once a craft beer establishes a discernable place and face, everything else is easy. From the logo, matching the outline of a classic Patagonia mountain range, to the story of their pine ale created by a brewer who wanted to capture the feeling of being at the brewery, every initiative seems to flow naturally from that exact spot on earth.

As part of the Specialties team at ZX Ventures, I can attest that we try to bring this insight to our brands every day. We’re constantly centering around the core truths of our brands—their founding teams, original brewery location, and authentic stories—in setting brand strategy. Whenever we come up against an existential conflict, we always come back to the place, face, and story of the brand to lead our way.

MartinRojas-18.jpg
Patagonia 2.png
MartinRojas-10.jpg
MartinRojas-12.jpg
MartinRojas-28.jpg

Alex: Behind the Scenes of Zxlerator

Read a behind-the-scenes take on the experience of running Demo Day 2018 from Alex Savona, new member of the Explore team and former Zxlerator intern!

Alex Savona, GMBA Class of 2018, pitching to internal investors at Demo Day 2017 as an intern.

Alex Savona, GMBA Class of 2018, pitching to internal investors at Demo Day 2017 as an intern.

June 11, 2018 was a day of firsts. It was my first day of work at ZX Ventures, and it was also the first day of the third Zxlerator program, which brought together 27 MBA and undergraduate interns and 26 intrapreneurs. But this wasn’t your normal first day; the buzz around the coworking space and “problem statements” was very familiar. That’s because this was my second Zxlerator.

Last summer I was a GMBA intern on the TAPT venture, where I spent 13 exhilarating weeks launching a start-up alongside other interns and ABI employees. The experience culminated in a pitch at Demo Day, which is the moment when each of the Zxlerator teams show off the product of their summer’s efforts. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with ZX’s ways of doing things, the ZX Explore team, and the Zxlerator program – it was all unlike anything I had ever seen before. From the start I knew this was something I needed to be a part of. I was over the moon when I received my full-time offer back to the ZX Ventures team and the opportunity to help with the coming year’s Zxlerator.

Now I was seeing the program from a completely different angle – as someone helping to run the Zxlerator rather than a participant. I immediately jumped into Bootcamp, helping our coordinators refine content from last year and collecting examples of work done to show our new class. But most importantly I was going to be an Explore Partner for three of the teams, serving as a mentor to help these ventures throughout the process.

As a brand new team member equipped with one summer of Zxlerator experience, I wondered how much value I could offer to seasoned employees of the company and my MBA peers. But then, just like last year, I decided to trust the ZX operating system. I leaned on my experience as a prior “consumer” of the accelerator to guide my teams and offer them tips for running experiments, validating hypotheses, presenting to VPs, and preparing for Demo Day.

Not only was I able to leverage that knowledge myself, but the rest of the Explore & People teams running the accelerator leveraged it too. They so innately felt that “the consumer was the boss” that they quickly and openly accepted my suggestions to the program, continuously building, measuring and learning, to bring our strong program satisfaction score even higher, up to 94%. Perhaps most excitingly as a new hire, the team lived up to the ABI principle that the company’s people are its greatest asset. They trusted me off the bat to help shape the program and mentor three of the teams - the most of any Explore Partner. It was incredible to see how much one could learn in one Zxlerator and how the experience fundamentally changed how people thought about problem solving. Alums of past accelerators wouldn’t miss Demo Day for anything; they even showed up wearing their ventures’ swag! It gave me hope for how this program could become even bigger, with former participants sharing this mindset back in their countries, business units, and future accelerators.

As Demo Day concluded and I took off my headset in the AV booth, I was sad to see the program end, but I realized this was just the beginning both for my career at ZX and the Zxlerator. There were funding decisions to be made, recruits for next year to find, feedback to implement, and opportunities to take the program even further in 2019.

Alan: Meet Our VP of Legal & Corporate Affairs

Alan

Tell us a bit about your career path. How did you end up at ZX Ventures?

When I graduated from law school, I joined a big law firm, mostly because I saw it as a great way to learn and figure out what kind of lawyer I wanted to be. The law firm career path helps you your confidence and develop nuts and bolts legal skills, but I quickly figured out it wasn’t the right long term career choice for me. So after a few years I moved to a role in the pay-TV industry as an in-house lawyer, which was a fantastic growth experience. At the time the industry was under a lot of pressure from changing consumer habits, especially because of cord-cutters — young consumers who prefer watching content “on-demand” on platforms like Netflix instead of paying for traditional cable or satellite TV. I saw firsthand how even the most profitable industries need to adapt and innovate if they’re to thrive in the long run. So needless to say when an opportunity at ZX Ventures came up I jumped on it. What could be more exciting than helping AB InBev — the world’s largest brewer — get ahead of changing consumer trends and position itself for long-term growth?

You’re new to ZX, but not to ABI! How do you think your time at ABI prepared you for ZX?

It certainly helps to have built a network of friends and colleagues across the ABI organization. While ZX and ABI are independent, sometimes we need to rely on ABI’s resources to be effective. Knowing who to call goes a long way.

Since you’ve worked at both ABI and ZX – how do you see the ZX culture playing a part in your new role?

The great thing about both ZX and ABI is that both organizations really have strong corporate cultures that they live by. I think it’s fair to say a lot of organizations have aspirational statements about their people: who wouldn’t say that they’re a meritocracy, that they only want to hire the best people, and so on? But what’s interesting about ABI is that the culture really is lived here, and it permeates everything. You hear people say the one lasting competitive advantage ABI has comes from its people, and it’s amazing to see how much of our senior executives’ time is spent recruiting and nurturing talent. So when we talk about ZX culture, we really are talking about ABI’s culture. That doesn’t mean that ZX doesn’t do things differently. If we’re to stay true to our mandate for disruption, we need to be even more agile, faster and leaner than ABI. But the focus on people, meritocracy, and ownership are constants across the entire organization.

How is innovation a part of your role at ZX, both on the legal side and on the corporate affairs side?

Everyone at ZX is focused on being ahead of change, especially on the technology side, so it’s natural for us to approach our day jobs as lawyers and communications professionals with the same mindset. On the communications side, the traditional toolkit doesn’t necessarily make sense when you’re trying to reach a tech-savvy, socially-committed audience. And on the legal side, I think it’s fair to say that the legal profession is going to undergo a lot of change in the coming years. ZX is the perfect laboratory within ABI to test out the innovations coming through the pipeline, especially on the legal automation and artificial intelligence side.

What’s your favorite part about working at ZX Ventures?

I’m never more excited about my job than when I can get out into the field and see the frontlines of the ZX family of companies. Whether it’s visiting one of our fantastic new breweries or going on a trade visit to see how our new product offerings are being positioned, what’s working, what isn’t, staying close to the business is my favorite part of the job. The Legal & Corporate Affairs function can only be effective if we’re aligned with our internal clients, if we understand their challenges. There’s no substitute for getting out of the office and into the field, whether it’s the warehouse, the brewery, the market or the pub!