Careers

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

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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.

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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.

Finding Success in eCommerce at ZX Ventures

We asked Guilherme Lebelson, Global VP of eCommerce, to share his insight into finding success in the eCommerce world. Check out his tips on how we make this work at ZX Ventures!

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What do you consider the keys to success for eCommerce at AB InBev and ZX Ventures?

Our success starts with our people. While technical skills are often required for specific types of work, in general, we’re looking for people who will live by our culture. We want people who are passionate about dreaming big, having a sense of ownership, and taking on new challenges. When we find people who are excited by our culture, and who are open to constantly stretching themselves, we can develop everything else. We focus on potential and allow our people and our teams to grow into each new role. Once we have that team of great people, we can look at the market and reach out to our consumers to identify gaps or create new concepts. We try to start with a gap, clearly define that one problem, and apply our knowledge to find a solution or a way to close that gap. Then we monitor that solution: if it’s going well, and if it’s a scalable solution, we can grow it. If not, of course, we shut it down and try another idea.

How do you stay focused on the end results of a project or goal?

The key here is that it’s all about keeping our eye on the goal we want to achieve, not on a specific tool or “buzz word” technology. We don’t believe in focusing on how we do things in and of itself. We look to put our consumers first, build great products, and deliver results. We always look toward our dream and our challenge and select the best tools and technologies that will help us achieve that dream.

How do you manage the changing needs of a company or consumer base?

It is critical to continue adapting as we grow. Right now, ZX Ventures is a very new company, but we’re already global and we’re rapidly growing in terms of our footprint. That’s launched us on a great journey of learning how to deal with different types of businesses and different operational models. In the beginning, we tried to fit everything into a one-size- fits-all solution. Now, as we’re expanding, we’re watching the data and learning that we should adjust our operational models to accommodate where we are and what we’re trying to achieve. Some businesses need to have a more decentralized model, where decisions can be made on a hyperlocal basis; on the other hand, some of our fully digital products benefit from a globally centralized team.

When Knowing About Beer Is Your Job: Educational Happy Hours

Etkin Tekin, Global Manager of Specialties and Innovation, talks to us about one of the most engaging aspects of his job: The Educational Happy Hour.

What’s the main purpose behind the educational happy hour?

Working for AB InBev and ZX Ventures requires a solid base of knowledge about beer to effectively promote our business. That means we need to speak the language of beer! So, one of our constant goals is to enhance the education of our team.

We have an ongoing educational program to ensure that all our employees have the knowledge and tools they need. We want to convey a consistent, accurate message as beer ambassadors, which means having a standard vocabulary and complete understanding of beer flavors and styles. The Specialties team at ZX Ventures has the amazing privilege of heading up that effort, and one of our favorite methods is an instructive happy hour.

What is the structure of these events?

Our happy hours begin with a short lecture. We walk our participants through a few technical aspects of the beers we’re describing, explaining the key flavors and characteristics they should notice. For example, one of our classes focused on the difference between ales and lagers. These styles are distinguished by the different major yeast strains used, with each producing a distinct beer with qualities typical of that style. Another recent class compared a pale ale with a German pilsner.

After the discussion comes the tasting. Once we’ve given everyone some context regarding what they’re about to try, we put their palates to the test. We provide beers for blind tastings and ask our attendees to describe what they experience; what they can taste, smell, and feel for each beer, as well as their overall impressions. It’s also an opportunity to see how well people can articulate a beer’s characteristics, which is a valuable skill for us to have.

Can you give us an example of a comparison that might come up at an educational happy hour?

Some of our comparisons are quite sophisticated. Take our last happy hour, where we discussed Belgian golden ales. We provided three examples, including our own Leffe Blonde, for tasting. We often do these blind tastings to compare our portfolio of beers to other major brands. For example, we provided our Goose IPA along with two other brands to see how many people could differentiate those and recognize our beer! We also ask which beer everyone prefers and why.One important note about our happy hours is that we work with real market conditions to give our team relevant context for our portfolio. We get the beer for our tastings from a retail store, so we get what’s on the shelf. Sometimes we find that beers have been on the shelf too long or haven’t been stored well. It gives us a real-world market context, reminding us that there are limits to what we can control in producing beer. These happy hours are an opportunity for us to see what’s actually being sold and identify what we can do better.

Company Culture at Zx Ventures

Guilherme Lebelson, Global VP of eCommerce, and Jerome Pellaud, Global VP of Specialties, discuss their favorite aspects of the company culture at ZX Ventures and how these facets enable success. 

Guilherme Lebelson, discusses what he loves about the 10 principles of the company culture at AB InBev and ZX Ventures.

Jerome Pellaud, Global VP of Specialties, talks about the opportunities for learning, growing and making an impact at ZX Ventures.

Jerome discusses taking calculated risks and learning on the job at ZX Ventures.

Photograph courtesy of The Muse

Photograph courtesy of The Muse

Mentorship Matters: What I’ve Learned, and What I Try to Give Back

Photograph courtesy of The Muse

Photograph courtesy of The Muse

By Gabriel Mello

My first standout mentor found me early in my career, when I had been with the company for only a couple of years. I was still very young, and I was new to the idea of this workplace culture. His feedback galvanized me into living that culture and adopting it as my own personal ethic. Later, when I was about five years in, I worked with another mentor who taught me everything I know about managing people. He was amazing—he could guide people with completely different profiles and styles and extract the absolute best work from each of them. What I learned from him was instrumental in developing my own leadership. Finally, I worked a third mentor who educated me about strategy. He demonstrated how to make a plan that is clear and visible and then how to mobilize people to work toward that goal. I was fortunate to have people who were complementary to my needs depending on where I was in my career.

Recognizing that, I take an individualized approach with the people I’m coaching, tailored to their capabilities and needs at the time. For example, my central team members in NYC work in smaller teams and don’t manage large groups of people, so my first goal for them is to help them obtain the technical knowledge they need. I usually can’t fill all those information gaps, so I look for benchmarks: people who have done that deep dive, who can teach them the key skills required to master their roles. For example, if a mentee of mine is responsible for devising strategy, I will work to find best-in-class performers who can teach that person how to incorporate new strategies for success. Another approach is to work with leaders on a global scale so that a background in different markets can be developed while accelerating the learning curve of taking on a new position.

For those working in the field on larger teams, both technical and leadership skills are of critical importance. Everyone’s situation is different, but I generally try to coach these managers, teaching them how to motivate people, how to increase their own influence, and how to give people the right challenges so they can deliver their best. For example, because ABI and ZX Ventures are committed to cross-functional development, we often have employees who excel in one area and are moved to a new one to further that development. As a mentor, I will advise on the team building strategy in cases like these so that the team complements the abilities of its leader. This allows for short term success while giving the leader the time to learn without having results suffer as he or she is brought up to speed on the specifics of the business operations.

Mentorship is key to development, but what employees need varies as they progress through different stages of their careers. If employees need help with leadership skills but don’t have the right people around at the right time to help them develop those skills, they’ll struggle. Ideally, we identify the needs of our people and give them the opportunity to work with mentors who are strong on the capabilities they need at the moment. That’s what I’m trying to achieve through my mentorship, to honor the people who guided me.