Mr. Buffett, known for his fondness for well-managed companies with respected brands, was not involved in the Anheuser-Busch buyout, which was completed as the U.S. economy descended into the Great Recession. 3G Capital's beer roots are broader and deeper than its food roots. The private equity firm took Burger King private in 2010 before selling some of the fast-food company's stock to the public last summer.
In yet another difference, the last time a member of the Heinz family ran the company was in the mid-'60s, but the Busch family kept tight reins on their brewery until the takeover.
Their free-spending ways were legendary. William Knoedelseder, author of a history of Anheuser-Busch, recalled that when Budweiser sales fell in St. Louis in 1954, CEO August "Gussie" Busch Jr., invited 11,000 distributors, retailers, bar owners and others who sold his beer to dinner parties at his home and hosted 1,000 of them nightly for 11 consecutive nights. Time magazine reported that sales in the region jumped 400 percent, Mr. Knoedelseder wrote.
"Anheuser-Busch spent an awful lot of money making friends," Mr. Williams said. "But that's the way Anheuser-Busch operated and that's why they got to 53 percent of the business."
Said another former brewery executive who asked not to be identified: "People never realized how ridiculously generous Anheuser-Busch was."
Making suppliers wait
One of the first things to change once 3G Capital's Carlos Brito assumed control of Anheuser-Busch was how fast the brewer paid its bills. Instead of 30 days, suppliers were told they would get their money in 120 days. The change was particularly hard on the brewer's small suppliers.
"Anybody that's a small company in these times, that's a killer to wait four months to be paid," said Stephen Brock, the owner of Supplier Industrial Solutions. "Our suppliers want their money in 30 days."
The Granite City, Ill., company has six employees. It still sells a small amount of pipe, hoses and connectors to the brewer.
"Basically, they're off the radar for us," Mr. Brock said. "We don't pursue it like we used to. The more business we do with them, the longer we would have to wait to be paid."
Furor over the policy was not limited to small suppliers. According to press reports, St. Louis-based Emerson Electric was so upset that it stopped serving Anheuser-Busch products at corporate events. The decision was unusual given that August Busch III has served on Emerson's board since 1985. One of his fellow directors is Heinz chairman, president and CEO Bill Johnson.
The Anheuser-Busch Foundation, the brewer's charitable arm, donated $11.4 million in 2011, according to its latest annual report filed with the IRS. That's down from $14.7 million in 2009.
"The scope of their giving narrowed dramatically," said one person who is on the board of several St. Louis charities and asked not to be identified.
One of the city's craft brewers said Anheuser-Busch had generously donated cash as well as its products to local charities.
"We get approached daily by local not-for-profits who tell us that they no longer are supported by AB InBev and ask us to aid them," said the brewer, who asked not to be identified.
Cindy Erickson, CEO of the American Red Cross of Greater St. Louis, said AB InBev remains "one of our gold standard partners." The company continues to donate and support blood drives and other initiatives, she said. Donations can fluctuate from year to year based on the need for disaster relief funding and other factors, she said.
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