Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dethroning the King: The Hostile Takeover of an American Icon.

I wrote a story about succession planning for a magazine called New Brewer earlier this month. Who takes over when the founder moves on (for whatever reason) is going to be a hot topic in the craft brewing world in this decade as the bright young men who created the earliest microbreweries and brewpubs will be hitting their fifties and later. I figured the story of how the brewers of Budweiser, the 150-year old enterprise run by the Busch family which was taken over in the summer of 2008 by InBev, an international corporation located in Belgium but controlled by Brazilians (in what was the largest all-cash acquisition in history) would provide me with some useful material.

What happened to Anheuser-Busch was more a tragic tale of hubris, strife and discord between a father and son and a provincial view of the world by people too long insulated from its realities, a tragicomedy in which poor succession planning was almost a footnote. The sins of the father, August Busch III, doomed the short reign of the son, August Busch IV, so thoroughly that what happened was inexorable. There was little in its pages to meet my particular needs (although I was able to get an appreciative guffaw from the owner of a St. Louis brewery who is currently in the process of working our a succession plan by assuring him that whatever he came up with could never be the worst such plan in the history of his home town  (where A-B is also headquartered) because that ship had definitely already sailed.

That said, Dethroning the King is a marvelous read and a fascinating look inside the dysfunctional world of a major corporate entity and author Julie MacIntosh is both a solid reporter (she covered the merger for the Financial Times and developed lots of contacts who were willing to talk) and a skilled storyteller. August III is clearly the villain, ousting his father in 1975 and then hanging on to overshadow and disrupt the short reign of his son when he took over in 2006. Under III (as he was nicknamed within the company) A-B ignored the international expansion that might have saved it for the family, including not purchasing, in 1989, the small Brazilian brewer which became the nucleus of InBev.

This is a great story, even if you care not a whit about the beer industry, and I recommend it highly. There is a movie in the works, I believe, or if not, there certainly should be.

No comments:

Post a Comment