Rating: 4 Stars
Well color me shocked that once again, wealth does not equal happiness. Or common sense. And any kind of personal management skills.
I loved Budweiser - Bud heavy, NOT Bud Light. When I was in college, that is what was flowing from the kegs and I drank many a free red Solo cups worth of the delicious liquid - until I turned 21 and then it was off to the bars downtown, conveniently just a couple blocks from campus. So, when I saw this book for sale, I knew it would be something I needed to read. I really enjoy these kind of micro-histories, and this is kind of three micro-histories in one. We get the history of the Busch family, the city of STL, and the company as well. The three go together and there's no way to tell one history without the other two, there simply isn't.
So, I was quite pleased to find it was a book I actually enjoyed. This is the first I have read about the Busch family, but from what I know and further researched as I was reading and when I finished the book, things seem to be accurate for the most part. I did notice a few reviewers make note of incorrect names, but otherwise I did not find anything else that was cause for concern.
This story is just as intriguing as any other family coming up in this time, making their fortunes like the robber barons we are so familiar with. It truly boggles the mind when one thinks about the wealth these families possessed, in the days before that pesky little thing called income tax.
My only real complaint about the book has less to do with the words and more to do with the photos included. I would have found it extremely helpful if the photos of the various generations of Busch men would have been scattered throughout the sections most having to do with them. Instead the photos were at the end and it took me a bit to figure out who was who, given the fact that everyone was named August or Adolphus. In the grand scheme of things, however, this was a minor issue and nothing a quick Google search could not solve instead of having to go back and forth throughout the text. This is one of my frustrations with Kindles, but alas, there's not much I can do about it.
This story truly is a remarkable one and I was especially interested in the parts that dealt with how the growing company survived during Prohibition. To see how the company survived and thrived makes the downfall that much harder to see. The men who built the company and made it what it became at its height...only to see that sense of the family business gone with the stroke of a pen when InBev took over in 2008. It also bums me out when businesses, even ones that have grown as large as Anheuser-Busch did - lose that sense of hometown feel, if that makes sense. However dysfunctional or downright ridiculous some members of the family might have been, or still are (I'm lookin' at you, August IV...), there was still that sense of family, and ownership (or, that they were able to keep that sense of family appearance, even when things behind the scenes were falling apart, relationship-wise). Now Anheuser-Busch is just another facet of a huge conglomerate and within days of the takeover, some 1000-1400 workers were laid off. While the author is brutally honest (with a possible bias against the family, though I personally did not see it - maybe because I have not read as much about the Busch dynasty yet?) about all the problems within the family, he also makes it very clear that InBev is all about the money; quality of product is secondary at this point. But hey, as long as the rich get richer though, right?
The unfortunate truth here though is that the company didn't have to be sold. At various times throughout it's long and storied history, Anheuser-Busch was run by intelligent, forward-thinking CEOs who continued to build on the foundation put down over a century ago. Yet the problem with inheriting something so important is that sometimes one simply thinks they're entitled to it, while doing nothing to prove they have the capabilities required to maintain the business. Perhaps had August IV not been allowed so many indulgences (and by indulgences I mean all the cover-ups for deaths and drugs. You know, usual kid stuff), he would still be at the helm today. My sympathy does not lie with him, so much as it does those who came before him, and built the company into the prize it became. Even so, it is a shame to see the company no longer in the hands of the family who created it. I can only imagine some of those men absolutely rolling in their graves with what befell the company with the Fourth leading the way, when InBev came in and was able so easily to takeover the company.
I'd like to touch on the point again of the suggested bias of the author against the family. I noticed this in a review I read before I picked up the book (I know, I know, reading reviews beforehand is a terrible idea). I didn't really get that impression at all, but as I was writing this review I decided to go back and see if other reviewers touched on this and more than a couple mentioned it. I am definitely interested then in reading other books about the Busch family to compare author treatment of the subject. Perhaps I don't see it because I don't know anything but what I have read here. My personal opinion was that some of these CEOs were pretty awful people (this time I'm looking at you, Busch III. Tossing your dad out of the business was low, any way you look at it. And as always, there's IV, who is lucky to still be alive at this point, given the multitudes of guns and drugs he seems to hoard). So, it makes sense that the 'warts and all' approach was used. Nothing is held back. We see time and again how the family was able to cover up so many things that would have become huge scandals - something that's not even an issue now that the company is out of the family's control. Busch IV is free to be as out of control as he wants and it no longer has the potential to impact the bottom line.
There were enough comments about a bias that I will be looking for further reading materials. Even so, I still highly recommend this look at the true rise and fall of one of the great American companies.