Winners 2016

Communications professional of the year

Christina Mills
Director, group communications and reputation

There are few in-house communications professionals with as much experience in takeover battles as Christina Mills, director of group communications and reputation at SABMiller, with more than ten deals under her belt. And for much of the past year she has been drawing on that expertise, working on the fourth biggest merger in history, which completed in September when AB InBev finalised its  £79 billion takeover.

The battle began in September 2015, when SABMiller, the world’s second largest brewer, announced it was the target of a takeover by its bigger rival AB InBev. Just one month later, the companies unveiled a tentative £71 billion takeover.

Although Mills gained valuable experience fending off unwanted approaches during her tenure at both Abbey National and Rio Tinto, where she worked on a year-long defence battle against a bid from rival BHP Billiton, SABMiller’s strategy was to secure the best financial terms for shareholders from AB InBev.

The opening offer was secured after a tactical battle to highlight SABMiller’s key financial and operational strengths, drawing on key relationships with the world’s financial media to guide market perception of a fair price. Mills rolled her sleeves up, and got involved.

‘Many people, when they get to senior roles, pass off the media aspect. But Christina has retained good relationships with all the key journalists. She still takes their calls and sees their role as important,’ says one admirer.

The situation changed after Britain’s Brexit vote, which led to a sharp devaluation of sterling against the dollar. The terms of the initial deal, which was then yet to close, were no longer attractive to many key investors, who threatened to withdraw their support. The strategy had to be adapted to secure a better deal from AB InBev.

Ultimately, AB InBev upped its offer by £1 per share but SABMiller still had to embark on a charm offensive with investors to secure their support. It finally closed in October, after many twists and turns.

‘Christina is a wise counsel. She brings experience and gravitas. There can be a lot of running around like headless chickens when it comes to bid battles, but Christina has seen it all and done it all. She is not fazed by anything. She has a good feel for how things will play out, can see the pitfalls and offers real and valuable insights,’ says one PR supporter.

Other supporters describe Mills as ‘highly competent’, ‘organised’ and ‘a hard worker with top relationships with journalists, who is good fun too’.

‘I think she is one of the best in-house communications professionals I have ever worked with,’ says one agency director.