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Anheuser-Busch InBev headquarters to stay in Belgium

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 | 2:23 p.m. CDT; updated 4:14 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 28, 2009

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The head of the Anheuser-Busch InBev beer giant said Tuesday the global headquarters will stay in Belgium instead of moving to the United States, a choice of the power of tradition over the power of markets.

InBev's $52 billion takeover of Anheuser-Busch last year raised fears in Belgium that a centuries-old tradition would die if the headquarters moved to the United States, the biggest market for the world's biggest brewer.

After the annual shareholders meeting on Tuesday, CEO Carlos Brito said the logic to stay in Leuven close to Brussels was based on heritage and the appeal of such traditions that spawned iconic beers like Stella Artois.

"Our company started here in one shape or form in 1366. That is very valuable," said Brito. And even the fact that the United States now generates 40 percent of Anheuser-Busch InBev's earnings doesn't make up for that.

So instead of a global headquarters, New York will only have a special office to help manage the company. St. Louis, where Anheuser-Busch was founded, will remain the head office for its North American operations.

"One of the biggest opportunities we have in the United States is the imports: They come from Europe," he said, arguing for Leuven. "The whole thing about the heritage, the source, the romance."

Brito himself said he would be splitting his time between Leuven, New York and globe-trotting visits to far-flung breweries.

Anheuser-Busch InBev employs some 2,900 people in Belgium and 120,000 worldwide.

At the annual shareholders meeting, which was attended by about 50 shareholders, lasted only 45 minutes and yielded one question, the company announced a dividend of €0.28 per share, or about 37 cents.

Last month the company announced that its fourth quarter profit plunged 95 percent as it paid the costs of the takeover and as beer sales went flat or fell.

The company said it would now focus on reducing the massive debt from InBev's takeover of Anheuser-Busch — and would aggressively shave costs and sell off some $7 billion in assets.

 


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