Leader in Diversity: EBF Talks to Pierre Jean Everaert, Chairman of InBev

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Pierre Jean Everaert is chairman of the board of InBev (formerly Interbrew), a [euro]9 billion worldwide corporation based in Belgium. A US citizen, Everaert was born in Belgium and graduated in industrial engineering from the University of Leuven, later taking an MBA and an honorary Doctor of Law degree from the University of Rochester. He joined Goodyear International Corporation in 1963, and over the course of a long and distinguished career has held senior posts with corporations around the world, including CEO of General Biscuits of America, CEO of North American Philips Corporation, President and CEO of Koninklijke Ahold NV, Vice-Chairman of the board of management of Philips Electronics NV, and CEO and Chairman of Baan Co. Perhaps unusually for a senior business leader, he also has strong academic credentials; his book The Organization of the Future, co-authored with Peter Drucker, Rosabeth Moss Kanter and C.K. Prahalad, appeared in 1997, and he remains a visiting professor with the Vleerinck School of Management at the University of Leuven. He spoke to EBF about managing in different cultures, relations between the business and academic communities, and management in an uncertain world

EBF Your career has been a remarkably diverse one, even by modern standards. How easy have you found it to move between companies and cultures, particularly from Europe to North America, and then back again?

Everaert My career started in the US in 1963, and in the 41 years since I have worked for four companies in 13 countries. I have worked mainly in the US and Europe but I have also been involved with Japan, first from 1979 through 1985 and then again with Interbrew from 1996 until now. And I've been involved in the academic world for 30 years, at universities on four continents, firstly in teaching international marketing and then more recently in corporate governance.

So, yes, it has been quite a diverse career, but personally I have found all the moves easy. It is certainly not impossible to make these kinds of transitions if one accepts the differences in corporate culture and corporate governance. It is important to see these differences as challenges and opportunities to learn, rather than obstacles that have to be lived with or overcome. It is also important when on foreign assignments to acquire fluency in the host country's language. By doing so, you can communicate more readily with both your own managers and the community at large, and enables you to become more at home in a foreign culture.

But it is important to recognise that differences do exist. Managers in North American companies are still very much driven by the 'American dream'. They seek wealth creation, and also to advance their own position in the hierarchy. Of course, climbing the corporate pyramid is important in Europe as well, but here the goal is more likely to be recognition of one's social status and position, rather than purely financial success. In Europe, wealth creation is considered the 'happy result' of good performance, while in the US, wealth creation is much more the fundamental purpose. It is that move between the two systems of values, status recognition and wealth creation, that some executives will find difficult. But if you can make that adjustment, then you should find the transition easier.

All of the above applies to the corporate world only, of course, and there are other differences. The main difference between Europe and the US is the enormous opportunities available to entrepreneurs, to start their own companies and make it big, that exist in the US. This is not the case in Europe. It is rare that an American comes to Europe to set up his own company from scratch. The reverse of course is true, as history shows us: America was built, first by Europeans and now by Asian and Latin American entrepreneurs.

EBF On the same topic, do you see any major differences, either practical or philosophical, in the ways that European and North American companies are managed? …