Employee exclusive with Mrs. Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken and Mr. Michel de Carvalho
“The sense of family is a huge asset”
photography Anton Corbijn
photography Anton Corbijn
As we celebrate our 150th anniversary, Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken and Michel de Carvalho reflect on the values that link our past, present and future – and unite HEINEKEN employees worldwide.
Excitement. Entrepreneurialism. Passion for quality. It may be 150 years since her great-grandfather bought the small Haystack brewery where our journey began – but Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken is in no doubt his vibrant spirit still runs through the veins of HEINEKEN today.
“There’s a spirit that has been there since the very beginning,” she says. “It links us with the past, and unites all of us at HEINEKEN now.”
Charlene and her husband Michel de Carvalho glow as they discuss the enthusiasm for HEINEKEN they share with our people across the globe. “I’m so proud that when I meet employees all over the world, they are excited about what they are doing. I find it thrilling that they share my excitement,” says Charlene.
There’s a sense of family, of community, of continuity – even as we’ve expanded over the years. “When we acquire a company, its employees come from brewers with equally rich histories. They don’t abandon that family; they become part of a bigger one. Through all our expansion and growth, HEINEKEN has kept that feeling of being a family, a community. That sense of family is a huge asset.”
The ‘WOW’ factor
So much has changed since 1864, when Gerard Adriaan Heineken founded our company. Yet some vital elements – such as the HEINEKEN passion for quality – have remained constant to this day.
“I always say everything about us has to be ‘wow’” says Michel. “Our people, the quality and taste of our beer, our advertising, all have to wow our customers.”
A consistently high quality product was, says Charlene, her late father Freddy’s dream. “He wanted someone buying a Heineken at Anchorage airport, say, or in Papua New Guinea to have the comfort of knowing what they were getting. Even in the days when the world was not as small as it is now, he wanted people wherever they were, to feel they were ‘at home’ when they drank Heineken.”
This level of consistency is something very special and worth talking about. It’s made possible by the passion and dedication of our brewers and the constant pursuit of excellence from every person along the journey our beer travels to reach our consumer. “I don’t think that always comes across, the sophisticated process that means we can achieve consistency and stability every single time,” observes Charlene.
The human element, in other words, is as vital today as it always has been. Indeed, respect for people – treating employees fairly and honestly - is one of the enduring values Charlene and Michel say they are proud of at HEINEKEN. So too is our respect for society and the planet.
They express great satisfaction at the strides we have made in sustainability, citing as an example the project we began last year to improve water availability in Ethiopia.
HEINEKEN would not have become what it is today without an abiding entrepreneurial spirit. “We’ve been international since very early, so by definition we’re entrepreneurial,” says Charlene.
That spirit has helped us make HEINEKEN the world’s most international brewer. Yet the couple stress that as a big, complex multinational in a competitive marketplace, we need to make sure we don’t stop being entrepreneurial and innovative.
“We need to be sharp without losing our style,” says Michel. “We want to keep our ears open to what young people want and respond to their desire for change.”
By its nature, the Heineken name creates a positive feeling, he says. Bringing enjoyment to life is one of our core values, and the fact people associate our beer with enjoyment may give us a head start; but we can make HEINEKEN even greater if we dial up the entrepreneurial spirit, each of us taking ambassadorship to a new level and being alert to opportunities for the company.
Michel himself proudly gives two such examples, telling of the Barcelona café owner he persuaded to switch from Beck’s, or the Ohio food and beverage manager who overcame initial scepticism to move from Miller.
Moving with the times
The couple’s pride in HEINEKEN past and present is tangible. But where would they like to see the company 50 years from now?
“I want us to preserve what’s great about HEINEKEN: continuing to offer exceptional quality products, remaining competitive and strong while still cultivating our unique culture and our great image of bringing enjoyment to people,” says Charlene. Michel says he sees the company moving with the times yet maintaining the same quality - and equality – of product that has always characterised it.
Asked whether they have any final special words for employees, the couple do not hesitate for a second to express their warm gratitude.
“I know the time and energy you all put in and I want to say thank you,” says Charlene. To which Michel adds: “We know you have choices of where to work - and we are deeply grateful you choose to share our passion.” ■