With 36 years of experience in brewery production in 3 important SABMiller markets – South Africa, China and Europe – Alan Sikora is now leading teams in the three Romanian breweries and the Dreher Brewery in Hungary. Two of the Romanian breweries are in the top 10 globally ranked breweries in the SABMiller stable which demonstrates top class operational excellence.
Alan has enjoyed a long and varied career in brewery management and has worked hard to realize his many achievements around the SABMiller world of beer. This makes Alan quite unique in this part of Europe due to his length of service, loyalty to the company, technical expertise and respect for people. So, we decided to ask him about his career and his experience with SABMiller and Ursus Breweries over the years. He shared with us how the can do attitude of the Romanian people is a great fit with the South African roots of the company and how the proud work ethic of the Ursus teams is conducive to the achievement of great brewery results.
Alan started his career back in 1978, when he became a Shift Manager at Holyrood Brewery, in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he was born, until he decided to move to South Africa in 1982.
“I joined South African Breweries in the period when the company was rapidly expanding at around 13% per annum. It was an important period when efficiency optimization could allow growth at relatively low cost due to better utilization in the breweries and this was probably the start of SAB’s reputation for operational excellence. I left the comfort of Scottish and Newcastle Breweries in my home town for the unknown shores of South Africa and was appointed as a young Brewer at the SAB Rosslyn Brewery Pretoria, South Africa”, said Alan. He progressed in his career in the brewery ending as the Brewer in Charge of Cellars, before changing tack and becoming involved in design of expansions of breweries, as a Senior Brewing Consultant Plant. During that period, he was privileged to be part of the design team which built the new Pietersburg brewery in the record time, in those days, of 16 months.
He also shared his story regarding his experience as a Brewing Manager at SAB Isando Brewery Johannesburg: “I moved to Isando at the request of the Managing Director Norman Adami to assist in improving performance of an ailing brewery. During my stay, the brewery achieved the highest taste results ever”.
The late 1990s was an important period in the history of SAB as there was a clear opportunity for the company to re-focus on beer and divest itself of the other interests it had become involved in over the years of isolation in South Africa. The company could now turn its gaze to other beer markets around the world and focus on its core business, that of brewing, marketing and selling beer. “That period also positively influenced my career, as SAB was exporting talent beyond the shores of South Africa and I was fortunate to be promoted as General Manger of the Maltings and Hop Farms at a young age, which grew my experience and stature in the business and exposed me to the wonderful world of income statements and balance sheets. Of course, it was great fun to learn about the importance of high quality raw materials in the brewing process and I found new respect for the hard working farmers in the Eastern and Western Cape”.
“In 2000 I was back in brewing as General Manager, running a high capacity brewery in Durban, as big in volume as all of the Ursus Breweries put together. The year after I took over the management of the brewery we won the “Brewery of the Year 2001” Award and I was very proud of our achievement”.
Soon after, he was invited to join the privileged few and became a “Brewery Legend” – an elite group within the SAB family of brewery folk.
2004 was the year when Alan left sunny South Africa, following SABMiller development plans worldwide, and joined SABMiller China as Technical Director. This was a challenging period as the cultural differences between Chinese and Westerners are huge and it took all of Alan’s people skills to be accepted into the CRB team in the technology center in Tianjin, east of Beijing. His main role there was to transfer skills and knowledge to the clever (but difficult) Chinese team.
In 2005 he moved to Hungary, becoming the Production and Logistics Director at Dreher Breweries and so, he opened a new chapter in his career in Europe.
His journey with Ursus Breweries Romania started in 2009. “I was appointed into this role in a multi brewery business with over 1200 people. During the previous 3 years prior to my appointment the business had invested in capacity installation and upgrades in a growing market. Since arriving here the context has changed due to the economic recession, and the main thrust has been to optimize and reduce costs of operations in a declining market scenario”.
In 2014, he made the next step becoming Regional Technical Director for Romania & Hungary. When we asked him what responsibility is on his shoulders he explained us that “the role involves the leadership of three Romanian breweries and one Hungarian brewery. The intention is to integrate the four breweries to capitalize on the synergies, to share learning that exists in both countries and to ensure smooth and seamless operations that are congruent in output and philosophy”.
SABMiller has become one of the global brewing giants building on the seeds sown in South Africa socially, culturally and economically. It was therefore a natural thing for Alan to preserve and promote the “Can Do” attitude of the South Africans. “After all these decades, we produce beer just in the way we used to, the process is the same and beer continues to be an enjoyable natural product, made with the same classic ingredients like water, malt and hops. However, it is not all about the process and technology. This is an industry with a lot of soul, and I was happy to discover that my Romanian colleagues have a similar “Can Do” attitude when it comes to their passion, devotion and effort put into making outstanding local beers. Romanians are great at accepting and improving on ideas that people whom they respect introduce to them and, in any case, there is a great tradition of beer making and consumption in Romania already. Romanian people easily accept the concept of building a vibrant beer culture”, said Alan.
Regarding the sustainability of SABMiller, studies show that Europe is well anchored in the brewing industry, showing improvements over the previous year and higher revenues.
Buzau and Brasov, global recognition
Another factor that contributes to the success of beer in Romania is the recognition attributed to the performance of our breweries, as Ursus Breweries currently owns two breweries that have received global recognition. “This year, Buzau and Brasov breweries are in SABMiller Top 10 Breweries, based on the results of purely technical performance indicators (water consumption, energy efficiency, etc.). 84 breweries are involved in the benchmarking process globally and therefore, the Romanian breweries’ performance is an outstanding one as these are the only ones from Europe in the Top 10.
We questioned Alan about his priorities in Ursus Breweries and what was his recent activity: “I have been involved in the Integrated Business Planning process which sets the multi-annual strategic direction for the company and I am currently involved in the annual budgeting cycle where we focus on optimizing our costs to free up cash to invest in our brands
Alan finishes the interview with his own words. “At the end of the day the beer business is all about people. People who make, sell and drink beer. People are not so different around the world – every employee wants to do their best, to have fun in the workplace and in their personal lives. I have observed over the years that great performance comes from people who are authentic. Showing genuine respect towards people will build trusting relationships that benefit employees and the company. Romanians are warm and wonderful people and it is my privilege and pleasure to live and work here with our Ursus family of brewers”.