The chairman, CEO and founder of Canadian brewer Sleeman Breweries has said he will fight to keep his family name in the beer business, after a review of commercial options was ambushed and turned into a takeover battle.

In an exclusive interview with, John Sleeman said: "I care very much about the people who work for me and care about brand equity and the facilities. I would certainly be much more interested in pursuing a relationship with someone who wanted to keep what we have built. If Molson or Labatt wanted to keep what we have built, they could be as good as the next guy."

However, he said, companies without a strong presence in the Canadian beer market may well have a stronger interest in keeping the Sleeman brand and company afloat. "I want to make sure (Sleeman's disappearance) does not happen," he said, adding he was "sure anyone who wants to spend hundreds of millions of dollars…would be fairly foolish" to abandon the brand. He would be supporting proposals at the Sleeman board "that perpetuates the brand rather than one that says we're not going to have Sleeman anymore".

Sleeman accused Carlos Brito, CEO of rival brewer InBev, of unleashing a torrent of interest in buying Sleeman by claiming it was up for sale, when in reality, the company was just undertaking a broad strategy review through long-time advisors BMO Nesbitt Burns.

"I'm not driving this process. This is something that caught us by surprise on Friday afternoon," said Sleeman. "We didn't need to issue a press release when we embarked on a strategy review looking at options. Maybe we will find the company isn't desirable. Maybe we should stay as we are? I'm not fed up with the business, (I) am interested in continuing to run it. But there has been this flurry of activity about Sleeman being for sale. We have had all kinds of brewers interested in Sleeman. I'm not marching around with a 'for sale' sign on my back, but now Carlos has brought the world's attention to this, we have to deal with people thinking this company is for sale. We weren't focused on selling the company, we're reacting to this."

Sleeman will be influential as CEO and chairman, but he is not the majority owner of the company and so will not have the final decision over any sale. He said he would follow a dual role over the next few weeks. As chairman, he will look after shareholder value, while as CEO, he would look to protect the brands and the company's staff. Here, his concern to remove the current unease among employees would ensure that "we will be making decisions in a much more timely manner", than under the pre-existing review.

"We have a great board of directors who understand that the longer this is dragged out, the greater will be the uncertainty."

Regarding his personal future, Sleeman said: "I would be delighted to stay with the company that has my name on it. If that creates shareholder value, maybe you will keep everybody, but if not, I still have a few tricks up my sleeve. It would be hard for me to walk away from Sleeman Breweries."

Turning to timescales, Sleeman added: "Carlos started the process", but added that no timetable has yet been set. An AGM is looming at the end of this month, but Sleeman said he feels that this was not a realistic deadline: "Companies have to do due diligence," he noted. In the meantime, Sleeman said, "we still have to run the business, making changes and driving efficiencies. I am asking people who work for me do what they do every day."