STEVE INSKEEP, host:
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
INSKEEP: I know it's early in the morning, but I have in my hand, in our Washington studios, a bottle of beer.
(Soundbite of bottle)
MONTAGNE: Okay, I can't see you here from L.A., but I'll trust that that's true.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: Well, just listen, you could hear - there's the bottle.
(Soundbite of bottle opener)
INSKEEP: Here's the rusty can opener that we have here bottle opener, rather. I'm going to just open this up. Let's get the sound of this.
(Soundbite of beer bottle opening up)
INSKEEP: Ah. There we go. I should tell you that it's a bottle of Budweiser, and we've opened the bottle because we're opening the story of an iconic American brand which is no longer American. The Brazilian, Belgium brewing giant InBev owns Budweiser now.
Author Julie MacIntosh tells the story of the hostile takeover of Anheuser-Busch in 2008 in her new book, "Dethroning the King."
Ms. JULIE MACINTOSH (Author, "Dethroning the King"): It was a family company for a really long time, and I think that's why there was such loyalty within not only the Busch family members, but the people who worked there. They saw it as a 150-year-old family jewel. And the strange reality of it was that the family owned only about four percent of the stock, and a lot of the employees were shocked when InBev made its bid that the Busch's actually had absolutely had no power whatsoever to stop their entry, essentially.
INSKEEP: If you went to St. Louis on the morning that InBev sent its takeover offer to Anheuser-Busch and you just drove across the city of Saint Louis, what signs of Anheuser-Busch's influence would you see all across the city?
Ms. MACINTOSH: Every single billboard along the side of the highway seemed to be tied to Anheuser-Busch in some way. You've got Busch Stadium. You've got nature parks that are sponsored by the Busch's. You've got Grant Farm, the ancestral home of the Busch family, which is a free, essentially, amusement park for families and kids. And people really appreciated the amount of support the company gave the city.
INSKEEP: Mm. You also write that if you went to a particular block and got to know the people, you would get to know the person on that block who was an Anheuser-Busch employee because they might be handing out free beer.
Ms. MACINTOSH: That's right. If you were even kind of in the middle levels of the company, you would generally get a certain amount of beer every month, a certain quota, and the higher-up executives would have a kegerator on tap at their house at any one point. Not a bad perk.
INSKEEP: How hard was it to contain costs at a company that was so successful and was selling, after all, an addictive product?
Ms. MACINTOSH: Anheuser-Busch prided itself on being gold-plated. That's what so many of the executives I spoke with said over and over again. It was their favorite term. They loved that the airplane hangar where their 20 jets were stored was spotless. And they loved that...
INSKEEP: They had their own airline, practically.
Ms. MACINTOSH: They, right Air Bud. And the Busch's themselves, you know, August Busch III, flew a helicopter to work every morning.
INSKEEP: But as August Busch III turned over the company to his son, August Busch IV, even though the company was spending so much money, it was still profitable, right?
Ms. MACINTOSH: They were still profitable, but they were lagging. The other global brewers and shareholders had been looking for them to come up with some sort of a plan to become more competitive.
INSKEEP: You've already given us one hint as to how Anheuser-Busch could be taken over, that August Busch III only owned four percent of the company. How did InBev, this Brazilian, Belgium beverage giant take over Anheuser-Busch so swiftly?
Ms. MACINTOSH: There was an amazing timing to this. If InBev had made its bid any earlier, Anheuser-Busch might have had more of a leg to stand on because the economy is a little bit stronger and people wouldn't have been so distracted by what was going on in the summer of 2008. On the other hand, if InBev had moved a little bit later, there's almost no way they would have gotten the financing together to do this deal.
INSKEEP: Oh, because the economy was collapsing.
Ms. MACINTOSH: Because the market exactly. The market then fall a part. So they really, you know, I had this very vivid image of them just kind of barrel-rolling under this garage door as it was slamming shut.
INSKEEP: Now you make it clear that the executives who ran Anheuser-Busch seem to have come out okay. They lost control of the company. That was very disappointing, but they made a bunch of money. I mean, it was a pretty good price that InBev paid in the end. What about the city of St. Louis? Is the Anheuser-Busch name still plastered all over St. Louis the way that it was on the morning of the takeover bid?
Ms. MACINTOSH: It is, absolutely, because I don't think that the new owners would want it to seem any less American or any less local to St. Louisans. But they're really struggling because in the city of St. Louis, a lot of people have actually switched over to the more local craft beers. So one of the most loyal Budweiser cities in the world, if not the most loyal, has suddenly become significantly less so.
INSKEEP: Julie MacIntosh, author of "Dethroning the King."
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