Originally posted by Danielle Wells on the McCombs Today blog.
Paul Verdu, MBA ’96, has worked in brand management and marketing since 1996, earning his chops in CPG with Nestlé and SC Johnson. In 2005, the beer business came calling—then South Africa.
Verdu joined Miller Brewing Company [now MillerCoors] as marketing director and later became VP of marketing with Crown Imports, working with brands like Corona, Modelo Especial and Pacifico. This past August, he joined SABMiller in South Africa as general manager of global brands.
This summer, Verdu will be hosting a group of MBA students visiting South Africa through the McCombs Global Connection Program. He is a former MBA Alumni Advisory Board member, case competition judge, recruiter and alumni interviewer.
Why did you pursue your MBA at McCombs?
After four years in IT I decided it just wasn’t for me, and I wanted a dramatic career change. The choice to attend McCombs was pretty easy. It had the balance I wanted between academics and social life, a strong reputation with recruiters, great faculty, a team atmosphere, an endless list of ways to stay active/involved—and it was in Austin. Sold.
Paul Verdu with wife Lynn Liska and children Jack (age 11), Grace (age 11) and Anthony (age 7) on a hike in the Drakensburg Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.How did your educational experience change you?
How did your educational experience change you?
Learning all the right business disciplines at the hands of a world-class faculty prepared me for the challenges that I have faced over the years. However, it was the ability to work with my peers that really prepared me for how to work with and lead people with diverse backgrounds. I also left McCombs with a clear realization that you can be serious about results and have fun at the same time. I have taken that balance with me and live it every day.
Has your career played out the way you expected?
As a guy from a somewhat humble upbringing, I really didn’t have any expectations. It wasn’t until I got to McCombs that I was able to see what the future might hold. I knew early on that I loved the competitiveness and challenge of marketing and building brands. At some point I wanted to be able to do that in an industry more near and dear to my heart than traditional CPG—at one point I was pretty set on getting into sports.
The beer business came calling back in 2005, and I’ve never looked back. It’s great to work in a category that I not only love, but one in which consumers all over the world share my passion—and it’s only one step removed from sports.
Verdu shared this photo of one of "Bevo’s cousins" on a family safari.
What’s surprised you the most about your move to South Africa?
It’s only been about six months, but it’s already an eye opening experience. There are more similarities than differences when it comes to brand building and running a vibrant and healthy business. And I’m learning quickly that there are some universal truths when it comes to marketing beer.
Understanding what motivates different consumers here has been the steepest learning curve. It’s invigorating to have to learn a whole new perspective in a country that has had such a difficult history and yet such a bright future. Keeping up with and staying ahead in a place undergoing an incredibly rapid rate of change poses quite an interesting challenge. I’m looking forward to it.
What advice would you give to someone considering an overseas job offer?
If the decision involves a family, you have to make sure your spouse is on board, because it isn’t easy. My wife Lynn has been 100 percent behind this move from day one, and it makes a huge difference. We’re embracing the culture and challenges as they come and learning to understand what several locals have taught us – “T.I.A.” or “This Is Africa.” We’re also starting to get out and about more and more exploring this amazing country!
The UT GSB Rugby Football Club at the 1996 Duke Tournament. (Click to enlarge.)
What’s one of your fondest McCombs memories?
I played for the UT GSB Rugby Football Club for two years while at McCombs. Competing with that group of guys and going to the International MBA Rugby Tournament at Duke each spring was a highlight of my time there—we played hard on and off the pitch.
Little did I know at the time that my experience and knowledge of rugby would give me instant credibility with the locals here in South Africa—something that has helped me from day one, especially in the “beer biz.”
How has your job changed in the past ten years?
I don’t think anything has changed more than the media landscape and how difficult it is to reach consumers with a compelling brand message. Consumers are savvier and more skeptical than ever, have more communication coming their way than ever and have more control than ever.
The role of digital, social and mobile media are perhaps even more critical in developing economies. Mobile technology has even deeper penetration and more functional application in places like South Africa that lack the more traditional technology infrastructure that we find in the US. Mobile technology is really enabling the entire continent of Africa to take a giant leap into the 21st century.
What are some bits of business wisdom you try to follow?
Judge Smails from Caddyshack said it best as he was christening his new yacht, the Flying WASP: “It’s easy to grin when your ship comes in and you’ve got the stock market beat. But the man worthwhile is the man who can smile when his shorts are too tight in the seat.”
All kidding aside, as a leader it is easy and necessary to celebrate when things are going well, but it’s how I lead and the positive energy I try to bring when times are tough that make the biggest difference.