Book Review:Julie Macintosh’s Dethroning the King

While this blog is called Dial H For Houston, I still have a place in my heart for my hometown of Saint Louis. There’s a lot of cool stuff that’s come out of STL– The Arch, the Cardinals, Chuck Berry, Voltron— and, perhaps in one of the biggest names, Anheuser-Busch. Sure, the beer was crappy, but it was ours.

Until 2008.

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Julie Macintosh’s Dethroning the King: The Hostile Takeover of Anheuser-Busch, an American Icon details the takeover of A-B by the international brewing supercorporation, InBev. Seeing as of how I was living in St. Louis in 2008, I remember the hue and cry that was raised at the time. Macintosh’s book, however, provides a fascinating inside look at what was really going on at the time.

Basically, the fall of A-B boils down to a story of father and son. August Busch III and August Busch IV (referred to as “The Third” and “The Fourth” respectively). It’s honestly the kind of stuff you could make an HBO drama about: The Third is a workaholic control freak, while The Fourth is an overwhelmed party-boy born into the lap of luxury. Macintosh looks at The Fourth as a sympathetic figure, almost too sympathetic, to be honest. In his youth, The Fourth was pretty much the definition of ‘spoiled rich kid,’ continuously getting into trouble about drugs, guns, drunk driving, or any combination of them. Trouble he consistently got out of due to his family’s influence (and money), even when he flipped his Corvette in college and killed the woman in the passenger’s seat.

Additionally, while the book was published in 2011, Macintosh fails to mention the 2010 death of The Fourth’s girlfriend, Adrienne Martin. She was found dead of an Oxycontin overdose in The Fourth’s bedroom– which also happened to be full of guns and drugs. On the one hand, this took place well after the events Dethroning the King is centered on, but on the other, well, it’s hard to have sympathy for a guy who has TWO dead drugged up girlfriends in his personal history.

Then again, as a St. Louis native, I may be a little biased.

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On the other hand, fuck Stan Kroenke. But that’s another post entirely.

So yeah. August IV turned out to be about as good a CEO as one would expect from a hard-partying rich kid, which left A-B in a vulnerable position once InBev came sniffing along. Macintosh goes into the ins and outs of the potential takeover, along with A-B’s plans to stop it. There were a few points were it got a little technical, but Macintosh never makes it sound like a business textbook. But again, the ins and outs of the deal aren’t nearly as interesting as the familial angle, finally culminating in The Third sabotaging A-B’s defensive plans so he can cash out his own shares in the company by selling to InBev. So, y’know, The Third’s an asshole too, just a harder working one than his son.

If you’ve got an interest in beer, or business, or St. Louis (or better yet, all three!) Dethroning the King is a fairly interesting read. If nothing else, it sheds some light on what had been a fairly opaque business deal, and it also provides a sort of microcosm (at least as micro as a cosm can be between two multi-billion dollar coproprations) to the general financial upheaval of 2008.

I still don’t drink Bud if I can help it.

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