InBev nv/sa

InBev, with 2004 revenues of 8.5 billion euros and 77,000 employees, gets bragging rights to call itself the world's biggest (by volume) brewer. In terms of revenue, only US rival Anheuser-Busch is larger. So, which big city in Belgium is headquarters for this brewing giant? Brussels? Antwerp? No, it's Leuven. This delightful and lively city of about 100,000 inhabitants lies only about 15 miles east of Brussels. Upon arriving here it doesn't take your nose very long to get a whiff of something in the air. Yep, there's the unmistakable smell of beer ingredients (wheat, barley, malts, hops?) being brewed. No, it's not an overpowering smell but an enjoyable smell similar to being near a coffee roasting plant.

A 20-minute walk from the city center or the train station brings visitors to InBev's new (November 2004) good-looking, seven-story red brick headquarters. The name "InBev" in big red and white letters is prominently visible near the top of the structure. The photo accompanying this story was taken on a foggy morning from a nearby elevated road. If the photo were a panoramic shot, then to the left of the headquarters building you would see a massive brewery complex. The new head office is built on land formerly housing a large company brewery. You can't see in the photo but to the right and behind the new building one can still see remnants of the old brewery facility. The company's origins date way back to 1366 so, we're talking about a company that knows a thing or two about beer.

Going into the building requires passing through a double set of glass doors. The reception area for some reason reminds me of entering a university library building. After checking in with the two friendly receptionist I sit down on one of six concrete benches padded with grey leather cushions and survey the reception area. There's a coffee machine, two flat screen televisions mounted on walls playing Brazilian beer commercials and, a display containing 42 bottles of Leffe beer, which by the way has been brewed by monks since 1240.

It's a real fun visit thanks to Chantal Callewaert, who's business card contains no title but I believe she's head of Public Relations. Everything and anything I want to see is possible thanks to the energetic and outgoing Callewaert.

About 580 people work here. Employee parking is plentiful and free, smoking isn't allowed in offices, there's no formal dress code with casual Friday attire observed on Fridays and, commuting cyclists enjoying covered spots in the underground parking. Conference/meeting rooms are named after—surprise!, beers and, in case an employee is not familiar with the brand (InBev has over 200) there's a bottle of said beer cooling its heels on a table outside each room.

There's no corporate aircraft, it's five minutes to the nearest freeway and 20 minutes to Brussels airport. Very nice company cafeteria with employees able to sit outside however, I'm surprised to learn there's no beer served. Callewaert does show me a bar where it's possible for a drink AFTER work hours. Employees enjoy a state-of-the-art fitness center with shower facilities. Any employee perks? Yep, employees receive vouchers for 12 cases of beer a year.

The boardroom on the third floor contains nothing on the walls and the boardroom table seats 20. CEO John Brock (an American), occupies a surprisingly small corner office on the fifth floor. Don't see any plants, note the flat screen television, beer glasses and three family pictures. Having visited plenty of soft drink and beer companies I'm used to seeing little mini-fridges in the CEO's office filled with samples of the company's ware. Not here though. What's the view out his window? The massive brewery complex across the street.

I have the world's largest collection of company visitors badges and getting to add one from InBev to the collection proves undoable with all the red tape so, Callewaert sidesteps the problem by bounding up to her office and retrieving one of her old voided-out employee ID cards--complete with her picture on it and gives it to me.

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