Brewing up management trainee programs

Grads land plum roles in record time at Labatt
By Danielle Harder
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 12/12/2008

For the past two months, Luca Lorenzoni has gone to work every day in a lab coat and goggles — not exactly where the University of Waterloo business major expected to find himself after graduating a couple of years ago.

“If you’d told me that I’d be in the quality control lab, analysing chemicals in beer, I would have laughed at you,” he says. “But that’s the opportunity we’re given here.”

Lorenzoni is in the midst of Labatt Breweries of Canada’s global management trainee program, a cross-sectional program aimed at building leaders who understand the beer business from start to finish.

Having learned about brewing, Lorenzoni is now going on the road with sales reps to learn how to sell beer. In the new year, he’ll move to head office, where he’ll train in the HR, information technology, legal and corporate affairs side of the business. Then he’ll be assigned to a five-month project before moving into his first management role with the company.

In all, Lorenzoni will spend 10 months in the program, where he’ll learn every aspect of the business and travel across the country — all while receiving a full salary.

“If you went to a restaurant and there are five good things on the menu and you want to eat everything, what if they cooked you all five things and said you could try it out?” he says. “That’s kind of what we’re experiencing.”

Labatt introduced the management trainee program in 2004, when its parent company, Interbrew, merged with Brazil’s AmBev, to form InBev. The program has helped Labatt entice the best and the brightest as future leaders, says Amy Secord, manager of people development. Last year, 3,000 students and recent graduates (within two years of graduating) applied for the program. Only 15, including Lorenzoni, were chosen.

The selection process involves five rigorous rounds of interviews, including a business simulation that resembles the game of Risk, says Secord. Applicants are divided into teams and assigned a continent where they manage a beer company.

“We go through different rounds to represent different years. We throw in factors such as another entry into the market, perhaps they had a bad year with weather,” she says. “It’s not so much to see what their results are but how they interact as a team and who steps up as a natural leader.”

Lorenzoni jokes that he still has nightmares about the intense selection process but says that’s what attracted him to the program in the first place. It also gives him the time and experience to decide whether Labatt is the right fit for him and vice versa.

“Any time you spend that much time and dedicate that many resources to actually finding candidates, you know the company has got a lot behind the program,” he says. “You get to see round through round who’s staying on and see if you really fit with them.”

Before applying for the program, Lorenzoni did consulting work in Toronto with little vision for the future. The management trainee program has opened up more opportunities than he could have imagined, he says.

“You see a path. It’s something that at every step you have to earn but, at the same time, there is a lot of opportunity here,” he says.

The program is already paying off for Labatt, says Secord. Several trainees from the first intake have shot straight up the corporate ranks, landing roles just below the director level — roles that have traditionally taken 10 to 15 years to achieve.

“These are people two to three years out of school,” she says. “(The program) is imperative. We have to make sure we have the right people in the right places.”

Some components of the program have been modified along the way and, more significantly, Labatt has condensed the interview process to have candidates in the door by November, instead of December.

“We’ve had to speed up our recruitment process quite a bit,” says Secord. “Even in this tough market, more and more companies are trying to get the best talent. Last year, in Luca’s year, we actually lost a lot of candidates because we were only offering to them at the beginning of December.”

Labatt is also trying to reach a broader audience, through a Facebook group and trainees’ blogs. Secord declines to say how much the program costs per trainee but will say it’s one of the company’s more expensive — and valued — programs.

“If we don’t take the time to make sure that we have the right people, who are trained the right way, we’re in a lot of trouble further down the line. We need them now.”

Danielle Harder is a Whitby, Ont.-based freelance writer.