Professor Katherine Smart’s career success has been driven by her passion for brewing science. In 2012 Katherine transitioned from a SABMiller funded Chair and Head of the School of Biosciences at The University of Nottingham, to a role as Global Chief Brewer at SABMiller plc, a FTSE 100 company: “While my role might have seen me in a field overseas talking to farmers one day, and presenting to senior leadership on new innovations the next, science and brewing science remained at the centre of my career.”
Accepting a post doctorate position with the University of Cambridge, Katherine spent 20 years as an academic, earning her first lectureship at Oxford Brookes at the early age of 25, and her first Chair at only 37: “My PhD in yeast and fermentation was industry-based but the Beer Orders in 1989 restricted brewing companies in the UK to the ownership of just 2000 pubs, this caused change within the sector and research departments began to close, leaving no opportunities for scientists in the UK industry. So, I decided to move to academia so that I could continue my research.”
While in academia, Katherine worked with global research collaborations involving industry and helped found the National Brewing Library in Oxford, and the Bioenergy and Brewing Science Centre at Nottingham, building a huge legacy of research collateral. So, when SABMiller plc pursued her for a more direct industry role in 2012, she decided to take the opportunity to translate her academic research into industrial application.
“When I first moved into industry I had to learn corporate language and new ways of working. I extended my expertise to include engineering, plant science, biochemistry, chemistry, fermentation and microbiology. I needed to have breadth and depth of knowledge across multiple disciplines, communicate with stakeholders in different geographies, sectors and leadership levels, and make and execute decisions that have global impact. As SABMiller’s Global Chief Brewer, my role included brewing strategy for the entire group, looking across the entire supply chain from plant science through to economics.” In 2016 SABMiller plc was acquired by AB InBev; the combined company is now the largest brewing company in the world, and Katherine is Chief Brewer.
Katherine thinks grant writing is an underrated academic skill which also translates into the corporate world: “The only difference is the experts are in the room and your responses to feedback are immediate.”