Gabriel Mello is the Global VP of Sales for ZX Ventures. Before joining our team in New York, he worked for Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) and its predecessor, AmBev, in Brazil. We sat down with Gabriel recently to learn about his career trajectory and how he manages global teams.
How long have you been with AB InBev, and how did you reach your current position?
I worked for AB InBev and AmBev for 15 years before joining ZX Ventures. I’ve been lucky to have had a multifunctional career that has spanned a wide range of positions and leadership opportunities in a company that I love. I’ve worked both in our field offices and in headquarters handling different functional areas such as marketing, consumer insights and sales. I’ve also had a wide variety of management experience, handling smaller teams of three people early in my career and being responsible for as many as 3,000 people when I was in charge of our entire business in the south of Brazil.
This gradual increase in scope and challenge has been instrumental in shaping my leadership style as well as developing my appetite for big challenges. Everything I learned about leadership in Brazil helps me tackle the challenges we have today. AB InBev and ZX Ventures provide this kind of path to all of our leaders. By moving people from zone to zone and from function to function, we develop leaders who are prepared, even used to, big challenges and more senior positions in the organization. We want our people to have a full understanding of the business by being close to the action in their careers. As such, we try and develop generalist leaders that can make hard decision when it really matters. In my case, I can definitely say that the generalist approach worked!
As head of a global, fast-growing business I have my local team here in New York and also manage teams in all of our global zones. We have locations everywhere—in North and South America, Europe, and Asia. It’s a tremendous challenge to be that diversified in a fast-moving sector such as craft and specialties beers!
So how do you handle those global teams on a day-to-day basis?
Having the right people with the right experience to serve as zone managers is the key: I couldn’t do this without great people on the ground in each location. Then we have to appreciate that we face two different kinds of problems. Some are common to all of our zones. For those, we try to drive our capabilities and develop best practices that we can leverage to create solutions that will work anywhere. Then there are the zone-specific problems, those that are particular to a single market. For those, our global mind-set and experience allow us to understand the cultural forces that influence our customers so that we can design effective targeted sales and marketing approaches. Moving from location to location over the course of our careers helps everyone in the business establish the broad perspective we need to solve those problems. While I came straight from Brazil to the U.S., I did live abroad when I was younger. I spent half a year in Sabah, Malaysia through the global NGO AIESEC, which was a great learning experience. This type of international exposure is critical.
Understanding our challenges, I take a three-pronged approach to management. First, my job is to clearly define targets and strategies for each zone. If we agree on the priorities and the goals, then we can get everyone moving in the same direction. The next thing I do is to establish formal touchpoints, which I do every 15 days. I’ve found that to be the right frequency: often enough to help with the business management, but not so often that I’m interfering. And finally, I visit each country at least twice a year. I need to be physically present occasionally to help guide and clarify our direction. When I can’t be on the ground, I leverage technology to have face time with my managers. It’s just easier to understand what’s happening when I can see people and observe their reactions to the conversation. I prefer that visual connection whenever possible.
Do you have any big accomplishments you can tell us about so far?
I can’t say that we’ve achieved our big goal yet, but in the seven months I’ve had this job we have expanded our brands into new markets and set up a fast-growing global organization with hundreds of amazing people. We are also building an expansion model – a highway for future global growth – that will bring our specialties beers to many customers across the world. This is our path and long term journey. Two years from now I hope we will have done much more!