Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The World as We Knew It

-I've been walking around for the past few days with this feeling of uncertainty. A few butterflies in the stomach...a bit of a dull headache. Feels like nothing is on solid ground.

I'm sure it has to do with two things: Anheuser-Busch becoming Anheuser-Busch/InBev and the U.S. economy's inability to recover.

-First, A-B/InBev. When will the St. Louis corporate community stop taking kicks to the crotch? Let's see...The May Company, TWA, Monsanto, McDonnell-Douglas...all no-longer locally-owned companies. This is the roster of what St. Louis was most proud of not very long ago. But the A-B buyout by InBev trumps all of the others ten times over. A-B was our largest, by far, source of civic pride in multiple ways.

We watch those Super Bowl ads every year and know that A-B, right here in our own backyard, is responsible for them. When we saw the Clydesdales proudly prance on opening day, or at the Rose Bowl parade, or anywhere else, we swelled with pride for our hometown company. The Budweiser signs on the outfield walls at almost every ballpark in the major leagues constantly reminded us of the company's dominance, and its connection to our area. Cruising by the brewery and office complex on I-55 was always a comforting experience..."Hey, there it is...always has been...always will be...St. Louis's pride and joy." Now all of that is, at the very least, tainted.

The worst-case scenario would be one where InBev relocates operations elsewhere. That seems, at least in the short term, unlikely. But the whole thing smells badly to someone who has always known A-B to be "the St. Louis beer company". That's all of us folks. As long as any of us have been alive the brewery has been there just south of Soulard bringing a major corporate presence to our city and our country. I can't imagine a city being more identified with, or by, a company than St. Louis with A-B.

Maybe the InBev deal is going to be fine for the shareholders, but there seems to be no way for it to be a good deal for the employees and the region as a whole. Will the local charities have to call Brussels to continue receiving support for their programs? Will Stella Artois signs start popping up at the stadium? How do you pronounce that anyway? Who will be the final decision makers on marketing and advertising? Will the aggressive policies remain? Lots of questions to be answered. And in the early days of this deal all I can do is take another Maalox.

-As to the economy. We've gone through some rough stretches before, but were they this bad? Gas prices out of sight. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae in trouble. Major banks going belly up. GM downsizing and going deep in debt to remain solvent. The U.S. auto industry in general taking it in the shorts. Foreclosures and bankruptcies at an all-time high. (Am I wrong, or didn't this all come along after Alan Greenspan's retirement?) Whatever the impetus, it's not a very comfortable situation for anyone in business, or anyone who depends on business for a living. I think that's everybody, outside of government workers. Whether it's a recession or not (and it appears most experts now believe it is), it had better start getting fixed soon or there will be some really interesting stories that our great-grandkids will tell one another about life in the early 21st century. Perhaps similar to those we heard about our great-grandparents of the 1920's and 30's?

One thing's for sure, it's a very difficult time to remain an optimist. Pass the Maalox again please.

1 comment:

William Fink said...

St. Louis is just about centered in the middle of the US, which makes it an ideal location for a company HQ. We also have a major river running north and south and would be an ideal hub for trains, planes, automobiles, and communication lines. We also have very affordable residential areas and a great light-rail system. So, the question which begs to be asked is, “Why aren’t there more company HQs located in the St. Louis area?”

Maybe the answer has more to do with politics.