InBev’s acquisition of Anheuser-Busch will cause cut in white-collar jobs

Tuesday, July 15, 2008 | 9:33 p.m. CDT; updated 4:36 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A Belgian brewer’s $52 billion acquisition of Anheuser-Busch will lead to uncertainty for workers employed at the city’s Budweiser brewery, a former marketing executive for the U.S. beer maker said.

About 660 people work at the plant, one of 12 Anheuser-Busch breweries in North America and the company’s only one in Ohio.

Anheuser-Busch breweries in the U.S.

Anheuser-Busch operates 12 breweries in the U.S.: — St. Louis — Newark, N.J. — Los Angeles — Houston — Columbus, Ohio — Jacksonville, Fla. — Merrimack, N.H. — Williamsburg, Va. — Fairfield, Calif. — Baldwinsville, N.Y. — Fort Collins, Colo. — Cartersville, Ga. SOURCE:

Bill Finnie, a business-strategy professor at Washington University in St. Louis who worked for Anheuser-Busch from 1965 to 1991, said he expects several waves of cuts from the takeover by InBev SA, with the greatest pain felt by white-collar workers.

Blue-collar workers — most of the Columbus work force — will be on more stable ground.

“They’re going to cut, and cut big, over the next five years,” Finnie said.

St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch Cos. said Monday it had agreed to the bid from InBev, creating the world’s largest brewer and heading off what was shaping up as an acrimonious fight for the maker of Budweiser and Bud Light beers.

The company will be called Anheuser-Busch InBev. InBev said it plans to use St. Louis as its North American headquarters, and that it will keep open all of Anheuser-Busch’s breweries — the company even took out a full-page newspaper ad in Columbus to hammer home that message to the public.

But InBev has not said whether it will cut more jobs on top of the 1,185 positions Anheuser-Busch already said it wants to shed — mostly by offering early retirement.

Swallowing Anheuser-Busch will give InBev, the maker of brands including Stella Artois, Beck’s and Bass, half the U.S. beer market and a fifth of those in China and Russia.

Those brands have little geographic overlap in the locations of their breweries, which will benefit Ohio employees, said Hugh Sherman, dean of the College of Business at Ohio University.

Michael Stevens, deputy development director for the city of Columbus, said his office will reach out to the company’s local managers and executives in St. Louis and Belgium.

“We will continue to advocate for why Columbus is the ideal location for a successful operation,” Stevens said.

International Brotherhood of Teamsters spokesman Jack Cipriani said the Washington, D.C.-based union, which represents all Anheuser-Busch employees, is concerned about possible layoffs and has requested a meeting with InBev officials.

“What history shows us is, when these companies do this kind of thing, when you have that much debt, the money’s got to come from somewhere,” he said.

The union’s office warned in a recent newsletter about the possibility of deep cuts.

InBev expects the deal with Anheuser-Busch to wring out $1.5 billion in annual savings, most of which will come from better managing the supply chain. InBev keeps a sharp eye on costs, forcing managers to justify every cent spent.

It wasn’t immediately clear how long approval of the takeover might take. Several Missouri politicians have expressed concerns about the merger — especially how it would affect the approximate 6,000 people employed by Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis.

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