By Martinne Geller
LONDON (Reuters) - Graham Mackay, the chairman of brewer SABMiller and one of the best-known figures in the global consumer goods industry, died on Wednesday from cancer. He was 64.
Mackay spent 35 years at SABMiller, steering its transformation from a South African industrial conglomerate to the world's second-largest beer maker with annual sales of $34.5 billion and 200 brands including Miller Lite, Peroni and Pilsner Urquell.
He helped steer the consolidation of the brewing industry through a string of acquisitions over two decades that began following the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990 and the lifting of sanctions on Mackay's native South Africa.
He was chief executive from 1999 when the company - then called South African Breweries - listed on the London Stock Exchange, until April this year when he took a medical leave of absence following surgery on a brain tumor.
The reins were picked up by fellow South African Alan Clark, who was already slated to become CEO in July with Mackay's planned retirement.
Mackay recovered enough to resume his duties as chairman in September but his condition suddenly worsened in November, and he took a further leave.
He died peacefully on Wednesday morning, the company said, surrounded by his family, which includes three adult sons and three school-age sons from two marriages.
With a background in engineering, Mackay had a reputation for knowing all there was to know about beer, including the science involved in its production.
"He put things in very understated and clear terms," said Anthony Bucalo, beverage analyst at Santander. "He was always a fair-dealing, honest CEO who treated the analysts and investors around him, and his operators, with a great deal of respect."
SABMiller's board said on Wednesday it had appointed acting chairman John Manser as chairman until a long-term successor can be found. Guy Elliott will take Manser's place as a senior independent director.
SABMiller's stock was trading at 3,009.7 pence at 7.45 a.m. EST on Wednesday, up 0.5 percent.
APPETITE FOR RISK
South African Breweries traces its roots to the dusty gold prospecting fields around Johannesburg, where it began selling beer in 1895.
By the time Mackay joined in 1978, its interests ranged from food to property but it exited those businesses as it moved further into beer.
In the 1990s, as chief operating officer, Mackay embarked on a series of acquisitions in eastern Europe, Africa and China that, while relatively small, were viewed as bold bets on undeveloped markets.
The bigger deals that put SAB on the global stage, such as Miller Brewing in the United States and Bavaria in Latin America, came later once the company was flush with capital from its 1999 London listing.
In his last media interview, with Reuters in February, Mackay said one of the biggest challenges for his successor would be continuing to grow as strongly with fewer deals.
"I've been extraordinarily lucky because I happen to have been running the show at the time when it was without doubt the most exciting period in the world beer industry that there's ever been and it can't happen again either," Mackay said.
(Reporting by Martinne Geller; editing by Jane Merriman and Tom Pfeiffer)