How can companies collaborate with (and hire) grad students? Q&A with AB InBev's Global Director of Agricultural Development, John Rogers

Last Fall, AB InBev ran an international case competition with MBA students to both get feedback on one of their initiatives, SmartBarley, and as a recruiting tool for summer interns. FAC caught up with John Rogers, Global Director of Agricultural Development and the case author, to ask about the competition, outcomes, and value of collaboration with student organizations.

(Note: FAC exec team member Jess Newman took home 1st place in the competition, and will be interning with John this summer).


FAC: What’s going on with SmartBarley now? Were you able to use any of the ideas from the competition in the program?

JR: The ideas were really strong. Some of them we were already working on, so the case competition helped us to validate them and gain momentum to pursue them.  For example, many teams talked about crop insurance. Creating a tailored product for our growers. We’re moving forward with that, and one of the interns this summer will work on the project.

We’re also working to enhance the look and feel of the system, and more broadly, our communication around the program. We want to get more growers behind the program. The idea of involving women in agriculture, and linking this to our communication plan, also came up and we love the idea.

Overall there were a number of great ideas- some big new ones, and some refinements.

 AB InBev's Global Barley Grower Network

AB InBev's Global Barley Grower Network


FAC: Other than the ideas, what was the value of case competition to ABInBev?

JR: The competition ran across five schools in the U.S. and two in Europe, and we had over 70 teams participate. Now we have seven interns coming in for the summer across different roles and functions. They bring amazing talent and broad perspectives to help us accelerate and scale.

And the ideas they came up with will live on. This summer we will break the interns into teams across various geographies, give them 10 of the most compelling ideas identified through the competition, have them pick one that they think is high value, and then create a business plan around it and pitch it to us. We have budget set aside to invest behind the winning ideas. We’re really excited to get some fresh thought and bright minds behind them.


FAC: That’s great that this has been and will keep being valuable. There’s a balance between putting resources into an engagement like this and the value you will get back out. How did you think about that?

JR: You’re right, it was a lot of time to pull it off. But the ROI was clearly there with the great interns we have coming in this summer.

For next year, we’re thinking about how much detail we need to put in the case. We had a lot in there, and it would save us time, and save the students time, to cut some out. Having less detail might also encourage students to do more market research, which is good for both parties.

Another key for us this year was having a broad theme that involved a number of different functional areas. This helped us share the workload, and it brings diversity of opinions. Next year we hope to have even broader functional support and engagement from start to finish, including operations, procurement, marketing, and communications.

Finally, the case has to be about a real challenge for the company. We looked at the competition as a great way to crowd-source ideas. The problem can’t just be general- it has to be a real market priority, and has to be tangible. Students want to be challenged, and the case has to be credible to the students who read cases all the time.


 John Rogers speaking at Grower Appreciation Day Summer 2015

John Rogers speaking at Grower Appreciation Day Summer 2015

FAC: So will you do it again next year? Anything you will do differently?

JR: We want to do it again, though it may or may not be around SmartBarley. If it is, we’ll ask for more targeted feedback on a specific aspect of the program, as it’s scaling and growing.

We will also go to more schools and cast a wider net.


FAC: And advice for next year’s entrants?

JR: Participate! It’s a great opportunity to interact with companies. For us it really created a meaningful interaction with the students. And the students get to apply the concepts they’re learning.


FAC: You got your MBA and then a job that many would want. How? Any advice?

JR: Don't compromise on what you want to do. You’re investing a lot of time and energy into your own development, so go for it. There were tons of things I didn’t know going into business school. I was an engineer. I didn't go build skills in another job and then try to get this job, I just jumped into it. Companies are eager to bring in fresh thought. The food and beverage sector is a growing space with interesting challenges in emerging markets and constantly changing consumer preferences and demands, so there’s a big opportunity for fulfilling careers in and around agriculture.

If you want my job, let’s talk about it. Let’s get you on the team. We’re always looking for great talent! 

Author: Sarah Nolet
Posted: April 22, 2016