Jorge Paulo Lemann, cofounder of 3G Capital
By Adam Lashinsky and David Meyer
May 1, 2018

Humility isn’t a trait typically associated with self-made billionaires. That’s doubly true for buccaneering types like Brazilian beer and food magnate Jorge Paulo Lemann, who made his bones as a ruthless cost-cutter. His 3G Capital is infamous for its efficiency techniques, applied to great effect at Anheuser-Busch, Burger King, and Heinz, now Kraft Heinz.

Yet there was Lemann in Los Angeles Monday at the Milken Institute Global Conference humbly admitting where he’d gone wrong. On a panel to discuss “strategy and leadership in an age of disruption,” Lemann, who is 78, called himself a “terrified dinosaur” whose companies had missed changing tastes and innovation in the marketplace.

Consumer demand for different foods delivered to their homes have hammered Kraft, he noted. (Bloomberg BusinessWeek summarized this well recently.) Craft beers caught his AB InBev by surprise. He said consumer companies like Starbucks, Nike, and Zara had done an admirable job of innovating, better than the companies he controls. (I asked if he’d buy any of them; he said he hadn’t considered that.)

Don’t feel too sorry for Lemann, who is hardly panicking. He noted that his beer empire has now bought upwards of 20 craft brands. AB InBev’s Zx Ventures scouts ways the company can disrupt itself. Given his success, Lemann also doesn’t lack for confidence. “I’ve had many careers,” he said. “I’ve adjusted,” he added, implying he’ll do so again when necessary. (Forbes has a comprehensive write-up of the panel.)

Another big company that has had to adapt, and do it humbly, is Wells Fargo. CEO Tim Sloan, on the same panel, said the scandal-plagued bank became complacent several years ago but won’t let it happen again. He said Wells is “very far along” in putting its problems behind it.

Sloan also gave a nifty internal innovation example of how Wells has begun auto-filling mortgage applications for customers, eliminating a common pain point (read: annoyance) in the borrowing process. He said the century-plus-old-company realized it couldn’t speedily design the product itself, so it turned to Blend, a San Francisco startup, for help.

Adam Lashinsky


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