FILE PHOTO: A man walks past the logo of Anheuser-Busch InBev at the brewer's headquarters in Leuven
FILE PHOTO: A man walks past the logo of Anheuser-Busch InBev at the brewer's headquarters in Leuven

From a small village to the biggest alcohol brewer in the world

By Sipho Mabaso Time of article published Feb 16, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - A rural  girl’s chance exposure to the glitters of the City of Gold changed her perspective of life and propelled her to the echelons of the corporate world.

Hellen Ndlovu, moved from a small village of GaMamabolo in Limpopo to the suites of Anheuser-Busch InBev, one of the biggest brewers in the world.

Ndlovu says her decision to move to Pretoria exposed her to urban wealth and elevated her ambition to achieve lofty goals in life.

Today Ndlovu is responsible for managing relations between the continent’s largest alcoholic beverage maker and authorities.

“I ensure the business has a healthy relationship with the government,”   she says. “Lobbying and convincing the government to change their policies or go in a particular direction.”

The group gained prominence in South Africa after buying the country’s iconic SSAB for more than $100 billion in 2016.

The transaction catapulted the local brewer to one of the biggest players in the world of beer.

The combined company controls at least $55bn in annual sales and a 28 percent global market share.  Ndlovu’s job as the director of regulation and public policy ensures smooth trade for the brewer in South Africa, Lesotho and eSwatini.

She negotiates, lobbies and interfaces with the authorities to reconcile policies and regulations in order for the company to run a profitable business.  Matters that land on her desk also include transformation and excise duties on alcohol.  

“SAB makes money by making, marketing and selling beer,” she says.  “My role is to protect the business against any negative regulations so that business can operate without unreasonable restrictions such as restrictions on marketing.”

The cooperation is important as AB InBev is one of the biggest companies on the JSE.  The group’s market capitalisation is estimated at R2.21 trillion.  Ndlovu writes position papers to propose alterations to the policy or persuade the government to refrain from application of the adverse legislation.

She is also responsible for ensuring job security for AB InBev employees and to intervene on anything that can harm the company’s growth in the three countries.  In South Africa, she leads the transformation agenda of the group by ensuring compliance that its operations are in line with the country’s broad-based black economic empowerment policies, 
public interest commitments, liaising with the National Treasury and parliament on the general policy framework.

It has been a long way for Ndlovu who spent her early years learning the principle of hard work and consistent diligence from her grandmother, while her mother was a migrant worker in Gauteng. 

“I have always been very ambitious and I learned very early on to be independent and adaptable,” she says.

Ndlovu holds a BCom degree from the University of the North West and a BCom Honours in development theory from the University of the Witwatersrand.

She describes some of her achievements as a member of the team that crafted the 2010 FIFA World Cup liquor regulation.

Ndlovu also says she also lobbied the SA Revenue Service to intensify law enforcement against illicit cigarette trading in the country.

She credits her ability to negotiate to the experience she gained in her erstwhile work in policy formulation and regulation, seven years working on liquor policy, gambling policy and industrial policy at the department of trade and industry.

Ndlovu has also worked as a senior regulatory affairs manager at British American Tobacco.

She says it can be very tough to navigate the top echelon of the corporate ladder but she applies herself diligently to succeed.

She is also grateful to some of the people who mentored her in the intricacies of the corporate world.

“I have been grateful to be blessed with some of the most amazing leaders along my career path who have helped in building my self-confidence and challenging me with great projects and programmes that have helped accelerate my growth,” Ndlovu says.

BUSINESS REPORT 

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