Organizations, like living organisms, are born to die. There are a few, however, that are able to prolong their life and are successful in defying death. They outlive their peers by using a highly evolved system of vital business organs, possessed of fierce survival instincts and a stem cell-like ability to regenerate critical body parts over and over again. But the reality is that eventually, death comes knocking. Organizations may succumb to a natural death once they have fulfilled their role in a mature marketplace. Others eventually kick the proverbial bucket because they underestimated the ability of an unknown competitor who emerges and takes them out. This is how we must now eulogize Anheuser-Busch.
Dethroning the King by financial reporter-turned-author Julie MacIntosh is an outstanding look into the hostile takeover of one of the greatest brand names in this nation’s illustrious history. For more than 150 years, A-B flourished, continually succeeding by constantly re-inventing itself. But in 2008, the loss of A-B’s vitality took its toll. Its body became weary. Its vision failed and it became hard of hearing to the call to change. When the end finally came, this corporate icon fought a gallant battle of survival against its competitor. But its search for Blue Ocean came too late and it lacked the strength to prevail against a younger, more able-bodied fighter with a carefully-honed strategy and a financially fortified position.
The corporate graveyard is full of organizations that died prematurely, promising businesses that passed on in adolescence and a few who through creative innovation, lived to a ripe old age. But what happened at A-B is another kind of death. I call it death by acquisition. InBev possessed three important attributes that were absent at
A-B by the time the hostile takeover began: the foresight to change before it was necessary, a clear unifying vision of the future, and the instinctual fortitude to respond in real time with a demonstrated ability of constructive impatience.
For InBev, the future is not the place you are going. It is the place you create. For years, InBev’s future included A-B, and they were successful in making that future a reality. When the future arrived, A-B was ripe for the picking, a low-hanging fruit, plump from its success, yet dangling on the branch of irrelevance.
A few short weeks ago, we welcomed Ms. MacIntosh to Webster University as part of the Walker Speaker Series. You don’t have to be powerful, rich or wildly eccentric to be interesting, the author told our audience. But of course, industry-watchers and St. Louisans know that the Busch family is all three. And that, along with the business lessons learned in this book, makes Dethroning The King one of the most fascinating reads of the year.
One wonders if the mighty A-B at the ripe old age of 150 had lost the will to live. Was what happened a deliberate case of corporate suicide? Or did A-B anchor itself with memories of its past successes and slowly slip into a state of hospice? I invite you to pick up Dethroning The King, watch MacIntosh’s address at Webster University (webster.edu/wsbt), then decide for yourself. LN
Benjamin Ola. Akande is Dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology and chief of corporate partnerships at Webster University. Follow him on Twitter: @Benjamin_Akande