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UPFRONT & PERSONAL: Understanding the business is “an immersive, hands-on process,” says Budweiser’s Katerberg

Rose D. Ors  CEO of ClientSmart

· 6 minute read

Rose D. Ors  CEO of ClientSmart

· 6 minute read

We continue our regular feature, Upfront & Personal, a column created by Rose Ors that brings “the person behind the title” to the forefront in interviews with some of the most influential members of the legal and business community.

Craig Katerberg, Chief Legal and Corporate Affairs Officer at the Budweiser Brewing Co., spoke with Rose Ors, the CEO and Founder of ClientSmart, about being more than a legal advisor, how to focus on the moment, and the continuing inspiration of family.

Rose Ors: What is a childhood memory that brings you joy?

Craig Katerberg: When I think about childhood memories, for me, it is all about family. One of my favorite memories is the annual summer car trip we made from our home in Michigan to northwest Iowa, where my mom was raised. It was four kids piled in a minivan for up to 12 hours. It was a blast for my siblings and me, but I’m sure we drove our parents nuts.

That said, my parents made each of these yearly adventures interesting by taking different routes and making sure we had a great time playing games and telling stories. These were the days before smartphones or iPads. There was something special about going toward our destination together as a family — it brought us together to create memories.

Rose Ors: What career advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

Craig Katerberg: I would offer two pieces of advice. I would tell 20-year-old me that every answer you give to the question: “What are you going to be doing in the next three to five years?” is bound to be wrong.

I do not mean to suggest that planning for the future is not essential. It is crucial to plan and weigh alternatives. But it is necessary to understand that your career is going to unfold differently than you anticipate. It is the way the world works. I would tell myself not to be so focused on future “what ifs” that I overlook the opportunities right in front of me. I would also tell myself to enjoy the present moment — the present is too important not to be lived.

Rose Ors: And the second piece of advice?

Craig Katerberg: The second piece of advice is that money does not matter, but debt matters a lot. You have maximum flexibility when money is not your sole objective, and your debt is manageable. Adopting this approach gives you freedom to pursue what is most meaningful to you, even if it might not be the most monetarily lucrative option available. Allowing debt to dictate your choices is almost a self-censorship of ideas and possibilities. If debt coerces you to pursue money, you may end up in golden handcuffs if the money multiplies or be shattered if the money dries up.

Rose Ors: Who or what inspires you, and why?

Craig Katerberg: Again, for me, it is all about family. So, my wife and children are a constant source of inspiration by just sharing their lives with me. The same is true of my parents and siblings. But the individuals who had a profound influence on me are my paternal grandparents, Everhardt and Jean Katerberg. I had the good fortune to grow up watching how they lived and what they valued.

Rose Ors: What made them so special?

Craig Katerberg: It was who they were as people, the values they showed, and the love they gave to the family. My grandfather was the first generation from the Netherlands. He went to school through eighth grade, then worked on farms before fighting in World War II, where he earned a Purple Heart. He was very comfortable showing affection and emotion at a time when that did not fit the masculine stereotype. He was a great role model for all, especially his sons and grandsons.

Craig Katerberg, Chief Legal and Corporate Affairs Officer at the Budweiser Brewing Co.

My grandmother was a force. She was an unapologetic feminist in her own right, even though that term did not exist back then. She was the matriarch of our family, and we witnessed how her strength helped her navigate a lot of challenging situations.

Rose Ors: In another life, what would be a career you would find interesting to pursue?

Craig Katerberg: I would be a cultural anthropologist. I have always had a fascination with how people from different cultures live and interact. I love working with people from different backgrounds and experiences and learning their traditions and beliefs. I have been fortunate in my career to work in cross-cultural environments and find it extremely rewarding.

Rose Ors: In practical terms, what does it mean for a general counsel to “understand the business” his company is in?

Craig Katerberg: The role of the general counsel is more than being a legal advisor; you have to be a business partner. As a business partner, the GC and any good legal advisor must understand the business environment the company operates in — its industry, and how its products are made, distributed, and sold. It requires an understanding of and empathy for challenges that our internal clients face.

My company makes and sells beer. To understand the business, I don’t just read and analyze legal and financial information. I also have to know how our product is made and distributed. I need to leave my office and spend time making the rounds with our sales team and our distributors. I need to visit where our product is sold and notice how our product is advertised and displayed. Truly understanding the business is an immersive, hands-on process.

Rose Ors: Now for the last question, how have your most trusted outside lawyers earned that special status?

Craig Katerberg: A lot of it is having spent sufficient time with us to have jointly tackled difficult situations. They have shown they’re looking out for the company’s best interest, even if that means having hard conversations with me, the CEO, their fellow partners, or others.

For someone to earn your trust, you need to have gone through a few trial-by-fire moments together to see their true colors.

This interview has been edited and condensed by Rose Ors.

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