The Busch Who Embraces InBev
By Tim Bryant, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Jul. 9–ST. PETERS — Comfortable behind the wheel of a pickup and dressed in jeans, a work shirt and boots, Adolphus Busch IV doesn’t exactly fit the mold of a beer baron.
He’s said to prefer the trappings at Elmer’s, a tavern in the Old Town section of St. Peters, to those of a country club.
He has never worked directly for Anheuser-Busch, and while becoming wealthy from its stock and beer distributorships, he has mostly stayed out of the business and the limelight.
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Soon after Belgian brewing colossus InBev made its unsolicited bid for A-B, Busch said publicly that the proposed deal would be good for Anheuser-Busch shareholders.
After A-B’s board rejected the offer, InBev’s bid became hostile, and on Monday it proposed a list of 13 people to replace the A-B board.
The only Busch, and indeed the only St. Louisan, on that list, is Adolphus Busch IV, 54.
He was on vacation with his children and unavailable for comment Tuesday. He said in a statement that his position “mirrors” that of his half brother, August Busch III, A-B’s retired chief executive.
“From the first day he took over as CEO of this great company, August III has tirelessly stressed the importance of shareholder value as being paramount to other objectives, not the least of which is the family legacy as we are no longer a privately held firm,” Busch’s statement said.
August Busch III is on the board that unanimously rejected the InBev offer. His son — and Adolphus’ nephew — current CEO August Busch IV, is reported to have vowed that A-B would not be sold on his watch.
WORKED FOR COORS
Busch started college at the University of Denver, and worked part time at a Coors brewery, where he was “a grunt, scrubbing tanks,” according to a spokesman for him.
After two years, Busch transferred to St. Louis University, where he earned a business degree. He put in a stint as a manager at Grant’s Farm, owned by A-B, then worked as a broker for Drexel Burnham before buying the Silver Eagle beer distributorship in Homestead, Fla., in 1984.
With five partners, he bought an A-B distributorship in Houston in 1986. Busch sold the Florida distributorship in 1987.
The owners of the Houston distributorship renamed the business Silver Eagle and expanded to San Antonio. Busch is no longer active in Silver Eagle but remains a consultant, a spokesman said.
Although he makes money from the beer distributorship, his heart is in conservation and environmental issues, acquaintances say.
“He knows his stuff,” said Ted Heisel, formerly the lawyer for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.
Busch helped found the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance, the conservation group that battled St. Peters over construction of a four-mile levee in the Mississippi River flood plain. The levee got built, but Great Rivers’ legal challenge may yet change state law regarding flood plain development.
Heisel, now executive director of the Ozark Regional Land Trust, said Busch led the effort to preserve the St. Charles County flood plain above the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.
“I’ve been impressed with how he’s stuck with the issue,” Heisel said. “He’s really spearheaded it for five or more years.”
Heisel said Busch ran up against some powerful business interests in the flood plain fight.
“A lot of folks could get disgusted and walk away from an issue like that,” Heisel said.
Another friend is Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder. He attended a news conference at Busch’s estate in October, when Busch showed off an array of solar panels at his home.
Kinder praised Busch on Tuesday “as a passionate and committed conservationist.” But the lieutenant governor said he had “grave concerns” about InBev’s proposal, noting that he attended the “Save AB” rally Saturday in St. Louis.
“I’m also a free marketeer, so I’m quite torn about this,” he said.
FEUD OVER FATHER
Busch’s 2,400-acre Belleau Farm near St. Peters is next to a similar spread owned by August Busch III.
According to “Under the Influence,” a 1991 history of the brewing family, Adolphus Busch IV’s relationship with August Busch III soured in 1975, after Busch III forced their father, August A. “Gussie” Busch, from power in a boardroom coup. The book, written by former Post-Dispatch reporters Peter Hernon and Terry Ganey, states that the falling out started after “a stormy meeting” between the brothers on the border of their estates.
William J. Vollmar, who retired in February as Anheuser-Busch’s corporate archivist, said he believed Adolphus Busch’s support for the InBev deal stemmed from that decades-old feud.
“I don’t know if vindictiveness is the right word, but it’s something close to that,” said Vollmar, 64, of south St. Louis County. “Adolphus IV didn’t feel that August III treated their father right. … So now, in effect, he’s trying to destroy the family legacy.”
Vollmar said Adolphus Busch IV never worked for the company and was not involved in day-to-day operations at the beer distributorships in which he was a part-owner. “He’s a trust-fund baby,” Vollmar said.
AT THE TAVERN
Elmer’s tavern is just a few miles from Belleau Farm. On Tuesday, patrons panned the InBev effort to take over A-B. But one said families were seldom united on every issue.
“In my family, there’s always one member who disagrees,” said Sharon Kelley, 49, of St. Peters.
Outside, a deliveryman from Krey Distributing in St. Peters wheeled cases of Budweiser and Michelob Ultra in through Elmer’s side door.
Matthew Hathaway of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
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