Comment - Anheuser-Busch InBev
In the end, the fall of Anheuser-Busch to a sweetened bid from InBev has been far swifter than most commentators expected. And, after close to 150 years of proud independence, the King of Beers will have to pledge allegiance to a new European/Latin American master.
The name of the merged corporation - Anheuser-Busch InBev - will be held up as evidence the US group has fought hard to maintain some independence - as will the fact that the North American HQ for the expanded business will remain in St Louis.
But don't be fooled. It shouldn't be lost that only two of A-B's board will sit on the board of the new business. This is anything but a meeting of equals.
And InBev will prove a hard taskmaster. Its reputation for cost-cutting and a subsuming business culture are well-earned, just ask anyone who is left over from the days of Interbrew before the merger with AmBev. The Latin American influence is now the defining characteristic of the Belgian group despite the continued presence of the HQ in Europe.
Those loyal Bud drinkers and workers who had signed up to the www.savebudweiser.com website and its ilk will be forgiven for having hoped for a stauncher defence from the A-B board, particularly after the rhetoric of the last couple of weeks. "Not on my watch" cried CEO August Busch IV, before following up with a lawsuit against InBev charging the Belgian raider with an "illegal plan" and "deceptive conduct, to acquire A-B at a bargain price".
But in the end the white flag was raised after only the first skirmish. Even the board of Scottish & Newcastle, a company with seemingly far less to stay independent for, put up a stronger fight than this before finally agreeing to the Carlsberg/Heineken takeover.
Should we have expected more from August Busch and his cohorts? This, after all, was a strong business, with a fantastic domestic foothold. A-B is one of the giants of the global consumer goods sector, let alone the beer industry. Furthermore, the issue of its independence did what few business stories can dream of - it crossed over into the public consciousness. There are cars driving round St Louis with 'Save our Bud' bumper stickers, there are ordinary consumers with 'Keep our Beer Here' t-shirts, there are Senators and mayors pledging allegiance to the cause and, finally, last week, would-be Presidents wading into the debate.
Some of the rhetoric threatened to turn nasty and in an ideal world, that sort of politics and nationalism should have no place in business. And in the end they didn't. The fact is that the rationale behind this deal and the US$70 a share offer were too compelling for A-B's institutional investors to ignore.
I have little doubt that August Busch IV would prefer his legacy to include being the man to fend off this international assault. But the fact of the matter is that the Busch family control nothing close to a blocking stake. Even if they did, the family was far from united on the best course of action, with August's uncle publicly siding with InBev. With institutional investors spotting an opportunity to make a tidy profit against the backdrop of a stalling US and global economy, the CEO had little hope for long-term support for a protracted battle.
It's an odd feeling being misty-eyed for a corporate giant like A-B. However, there was a time only a few years ago when reporting on consecutive quarters of strong earnings per share growth at A-B was reassuringly inevitable. You knew where you stood with Anheuser. It wasn't without its deficiencies - the lack of a truly global footprint is the most obvious. But it was what it was - an out and out beer company that did one thing very well: sold beer to Americans.
The free marketer in me will keep nagging away that there is no room for national pride in the global economy. But in a corporate world, where consolidation is rapidly wiping out this sort of individuality, I for one will miss the red white and blue of Anheuser-Busch.
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