Ruminations [And Anger And Sadness] From A Former Anheuser-Busch Employee

Yesterday, I got an email from a former employee at Anheuser-Busch. He’s obviously not happy about being laid off, but he’s also sad about the sale of the company and fears for its future under the new InBev regime. He gave me permission to post his comments — anonymously. His first email to me came in response to my comments yesterday on Stuart Varney’s program on Fox Business Network (I’m a regular contributor to Varney’s show.)

Just saw your interview on FBN with Varney. Shame on your frivolous approach to a complex industry. Many of the jobs cuts will profoundly effect the final product. Packaging materials such as glass and cans can be bought at varying levels of quality. Brewing materials such as rice can be purchased here in the U.S. (unbroken grains) as well as Africa, Europe and Asia )who knows). The best are procured, tested and packaged by a highly competent group of people that will no longer be employed.

If Inbev were such a great company, why have they never had any meaningful organic growth with any of their current portfolio of brands? Everything that they’ve accomplished has been through buying other companies and cut, cut, cut.

Don’t dismiss this American business success as bloated.

He’s right: I unintentionally sounded callous. At the time, I was simply responding to Stuart’s question, but I did not add my usual caveats about the human toll the sale would have. I was assuming, stupidly, that most people listening had seen me before (I’m on regularly) and knew how much I had opposed the sale and how much I feared for the company’s future. I got a nice reply from him, which is also worth sharing:

As you probably figured out I just took the enhanced retirement package after 30 years of proud service in packaging material design. So now I have time to watch FBN in the middle of the day! Having said that, the sad reality is that most of my former colleagues will shortly become unemployed along with most of the engineers that made the delicate balance between cost efficiency and quality happen.

Myself and former department are well aware of the current quality of materials that Inbev has been importing to the U.S. through the previous distribution agreement and it certainly is not up to the standards that we tried to build for our brands. Just look at their packaging on the store shelves.

Only time will tell if Inbev develops plans to purchase commodities as has been done in the past or elects to reach out to the best “worldwide” sourcing and pricing.

Lastly, I don’t accept that Inbev is a marketing company. If they were, Stella, Becks, LaBatt’s and their South American brands would be worldwide better sellers. My belief is that they had wrung all the costs out of those acquisitions and needed a way to “grow” something new.

Well, enough of my “highly partisan” point of view about AB. I’m not really a harsh person, just protective of the house that beer built.

My thanks to him for taking the time to write, and to share his views with me (and you). As I told him, I am optimistic (perhaps stupidly so) that the people at A-B will take a cue from what happened at Schlitz and not screw with the beer. We can hope……..

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