Another Busch Rises to the Top at A-B

CHICAGO The fifth generation of the Busch family will assume the helm of Anheuser-Busch as the board of directors Wednesday named August Busch IV, 42, president and CEO, effective Dec. 1.

He will succeed Patrick Stokes, 64, who will become chairman of the No. 1 brewer and theme park company after August Busch III retires on Nov. 30. The beer patriarch will continue to serve on the company’s board.

“Anheuser-Busch is ready for the next generation of leadership,” the 68-year-old current chairman said in a statement. “August IV has successfully prepared himself by leading the U.S. beer company through a period of great change and challenge. He brings with him the new thinking of his generation, yet appreciation for the great traditions and values of this company.”

Stokes has been with A-B for 37 years. He served as president of the beer company between 1990 and 2002 and saw the brewer gain almost half of all U.S. beer sales during his tenure. Busch IV started with the company as an apprentice brewer and has since handled numerous marketing and management stints during his 21 years with the company.

He assumed the top beer-company post after Stokes was promoted to his corporate position four years ago. He’s been particularly gifted in overseeing advertising campaigns for Bud Light and Budweiser and was intimately involved in selecting Super Bowl spots since he became vp, marketing in 1996.

A-B has been able to post shipment gains (up 3.2 percent through July with No. 1 brand Bud Light running 5 percent ahead of the comparable year ago period, per the company), but hasn’t won over Wall Street analysts who question whether sunny days are ahead for the mainstream domestic brews.

Although the brewer has won distribution for imports like Grolsch and Tiger, acquired specialty beer Rolling Rock and jumped into the energy drink sector by distributing Hansen Natural’s Monster Energy, Lost and Rumba beverages, the investment community recently downgraded A-B common stock.

With spirits gaining traction among 21-35-year-olds, would Busch IV lead the brewer’s jump into the distilling business? A UBS Securities report released last week speculated that A-B could be interested in buying Sweden-based V&S Group if the privatization-leaning government decides to spin off the maker of Absolut vodka.