Pabst Names Former Duvel Chief its New CEO

Austin Ray

THE GIST
Pabst Brewing Company is under new leadership. The 172-year-old institution announced Wednesday that it has hired former Duvel Moortgat USA president and chief Simon Thorpe to take over as CEO. Thorpe, who helped spearhead Duvel’s high-end build out, which included the acquisition of Boulevard Brewing and Firestone Walker, takes over for Eugene Kashper. Kashper came on as CEO in 2014, when he, along with private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners, acquired the company for a reported $700 million. He will remain with the company as Chairman of the Board and “continue to play an active role in the business,” per a company statement. Thorpe takes the reins December 1, though there is a 60-day transition period in place “to ensure a smooth handover."

WHY IT MATTERS
Since Kashper took over, Pabst, most known for its sturdy PBR brand, has been steadily making headlines. In June of 2015, the company took over Small Town Brewery and brought its explosively popular Not Your Father’s Root Beer brand nationwide through its own distribution network (the brand has since cooled a bit). A month later, it detailed plans to re-establish a foothold in Milwaukee with a new brewpub. It has even spearheaded the resurrection of a number of old labels, like Stroh’s, in its “local legends” series. Not all the headlines have been free of contention, though. This past March, the company filed a lawsuit against MillerCoors, which had been brewing Pabst brands, alleging the company abandoned its products on a “baseless determination” that it lacked production capacity.

For all the moves Pabst has made the last few years, including the Small Town deal, the company really hasn’t been that active a buyer. Which is a bit curious, if for no other reason than nearly every other big player—and even some considerably smaller than Pabst—has gobbled up smaller craft beer companies in the last half-decade. 

Under Thorpe, that could very well change. At least that much is hinted at in a news release, in which Kashper says that Pabst would continue to forge “exciting partnerships with like-minded independent brewers.” Speaking with Brewbound, though, Kashper expounded on that a bit more explicitly, saying he himself wasn’t “comfortable pursuing a situation where someone just wants to get out.” With Thorpe, he continued, “we are making sure we have a nimble and powerful sales and supply chain platform that will be ready for the right partnerships.”

Thorpe’s beer business experience, particularly on the acquisition front, extends beyond Duvel, too. He has previously served as the head of M&A strategy for InBev and the president and CEO of InBev USA—along with stints at Crayola, Kellogs, Tambrands, and Unilever.

“Pabst is an iconic American brewing company that is well positioned to be tremendously successful as the world of beer becomes even more competitive and complex,” he said in the release. “The company already has a vibrant culture and is filled with exceptionally talented people. The chance to join Eugene and the team at this particular time in the company’s evolution is all that one could wish for. I am truly excited about what we can accomplish together.”

—Dave Eisenberg