McCaskill questions InBev CEO about Anheuser-Busch

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

WASHINGTON -- Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill offered a Bud Light and a smile to InBev chief executive officer Carlos Brito on Tuesday, while telling him she would do everything she could to stop his company from buying Anheuser-Busch Cos.

Brito requested the meeting with the Democratic lawmaker and other members of Missouri's delegation to reassure them about his company's proposal to buy the St. Louis-based beer giant.

"They basically came to try to get me on board, so to speak," McCaskill told reporters after the half-hour meeting in her Capitol Hill office. "I said, 'Not going to happen.'"

InBev, the Belgian-based maker of Beck's and Stella Artois beers, offered last week to buy Anheuser-Busch for roughly $46 billion. Anheuser-Busch has not yet officially responded to the offer.

But McCaskill and other lawmakers from Missouri have been blunt about their opposition to the foreign sale of a company that has been an icon in St. Louis for more than 100 years.

"This is not a company that's not successful," McCaskill said. "This is not a company that's in stress. This is a company that's been profitable year in and year out and has provided good middle-class jobs in America. It feels like to too many people in our country right now that these are the kinds of jobs that are going away."

Brito, who called the meeting with McCaskill "very, very helpful," said he came to Washington to talk about "how excited we are about our proposed business combination."

"What we're proposing basically is really to take an American brand, so successful as Budweiser, and unleashing that to the world via our distribution system," Brito said. "I think St. Louis and the people there will be even prouder when that happens."

Brito dismissed concerns about possible job losses, saying his company's recent history has been to add jobs as the business expands.

The offer amounts to $65 per-share, a rich premium to the company's stock price of $58.35 Wednesday before the offer was made public.

Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt has asked the Federal Trade Commission to review the proposed sale based on concerns it would create a near-monopoly in the U.S. beer market and damage the St. Louis and Missouri economies.

Brito, meanwhile, pledged not to change Anheuser-Busch or its culture.

"The business and the brand were built on things that are there to stay," Brito said. "The Clydesdales, the St. Louis heritage, the museum, the farm, the brand, the recipe, the care, the quality -- these things are part of the business. Nobody in his right state of mind would change any of those things, because that's why the business is successful in the U.S."

Asked what specifically she could do to stop the sale, McCaskill said she wasn't sure yet. McCaskill said she could not exert pressure on the board of directors at Anheuser-Busch, but she suggested the board should consider more than just profits.

"The next step is going to be for the board of directors to pass judgment on the offer," she said. "I'm hopeful they will take a long hard look at what this means to this company and the culture and the history of this company."

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