Sunday, December 23, 2012

Book #68

Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's Kings of Beer, by William Knoedelseder. Hardcover.

Adolphus Busch married into a small brewing company in 1861. By 1865, he was working for the company, and by 1873he had helped turn in profitable. Shortly thereafter, he had been made a partner in the company, which was rechristened the Anheuser-Busch Company. The resulting company (always run by Adolphus or a descendent) thrived for the next fifty years, survived Prohibition, and then thrived again for another sixty. But then things changed for both the family and the publicly-held company they once held in their tight grasp, and the inevitable happened -- they eventually sold out to the multinational beverage company InBev, based in Mexico. Bitter Brew tells this compelling story, and does so in a compelling manner.
The key to a book like this, a history of a company and family, is access to the people involved and to original source documents. William Knoedelseder was able to get this access -- in the notes, he mentions performing "hundreds of hours" of interviews -- and it shows. This is a comprehensive work, detailing action inside both the mansions and the boardrooms.
There is a nice melding of the business and family dramas, both of which contain their own soap opera elements. The family elements of the drama often play out in the business decisions, such as debates over moving into new regions or product lines that. This culminated in a fascinating moment, in which one Busch rallied board support to vote his father out as CEO, taking the position himself. A move of this sort obviously has ripples in both the business and relationship side of the family.
Each generation of  Busch tried to fill the large shoes cast by the prior generations. I only had a few very minor quibbles with how the business aspects of the book were presented, but I can put these off to being necessary simplifications. Those few minor issues aside, I found this an enjoyable and interesting read.
Disclosure: As a result of my role as a co-host on the BookGuys Show podcast, I received this book directly from the publisher, HarperCollins. It is our hope to interview the author at some point in the near future.

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