LONDON (AP) -- Graham Mackay, the SABMiller PLC chairman who helped guide the company from a South African industrial conglomerate into one of the world's biggest brewers, died Wednesday after suffering from a brain tumor. He was 64.
Mackay helped lead the company, originally South African Breweries, through some of its most dramatic recent moments, beginning in the early 1990s when the late Nelson Mandela's release from prison led to a lifting of sanctions on South Africa and offered the potential for the company to expand internationally. It has grown to own such iconic brands as Miller and Foster's.
"He is the man who took South African brewing from being a parochial South African company, if you like ... and built it into being a first-class brewer," said Roy Summers, chairman of the advisory board for the International Center for Brewing and Distilling at Heriot Watt University in Scotland. "He knew the company would go nowhere if it just remained a South Africa company."
Though the beer sector was dominated in Europe by the likes of Guinness and Heineken, the company took advantage of the opening offered by the fall of the Berlin wall to sweep into eastern Europe and pick up assets on the cheap. Its growth also stretched to other African countries including Mozambique, and to Asia.
But Mackay recognized that South African exchange controls and a depreciating rand constrained the company's ambitions. The company opted to return its corporate center to London and he became chief executive of South African Breweries PLC upon its listing on the London Stock Exchange in 1999.
Meanwhile, he just kept shopping. The company bought Czech Republic brewer Plzensky Prazdroj, maker of Pilsner Urquell, in 1999. He led the purchase of Miller Brewing Company in the United States and the company's subsequent re-naming as SABMiller PLC. He also was instrumental in the joint venture between SABMiller and Molson Coors in 2008; the purchase of the Andean brewer Bavaria in 2005 and the acquisition of Foster's in Australia in 2011.
The company now has 200 brands and 70,000 employees in 75 countries.
The rise of the company came parallel to the ambitions of many in South African business anxious to move past the stigma of sanctions and take a place among the international community. The low-key Mackay is credited with building a strong team, including several South Africans in senior roles.
"There would be the realization that they had to get on the world stage to achieve their ambition," Summers said. "By getting on the world stage they would make more money — and invest it into South Africa."
Mackay was born in Johannesburg in 1949 and raised in South Africa, Swaziland and the former Rhodesia. He earned degrees from the University of the Witwatersrand in 1972 and the University of South Africa in 1977. He joined South African Breweries when he was 28, managing computer processing.
John Manser, who was appointed acting chairman when Mackay fell ill, was named chairman.
Mackay is survived by his second wife, Bev, and six sons.