At first blush, the 250 Clydesdales didn’t do too badly out of it.
In a bid to appear culturally sensitive and ward off any jingoistic assault on his bid for the American-owned Anheuser-Busch in 2008, InBev’s Carlos Brito promised to take care of the company’s world-famous horses. Brito’s advisers had warned him to treat these animals as the holy cows of Budweiser culture and make nice.
The humans weren’t so lucky. It’s difficult to say who suffered most: the 3,000 workers who lost their jobs almost immediately, or the 12,000 who were left behind to deal with a complete reworking of their physical and cultural workplace.
"Rather than chipping away at Anheuser’s layers of waste and making gradual shifts to keep employees from panicking, the Brazilians decided to blow everything up all at once," wrote Julie Macintosh in Dethroning the King, the story of InBev’s purchase of Anheuser-Busch.
"They took sledgehammers to the cushy, private offices that lined the hallways of Anheuser’s executive suite — offices that had allowed staffers to go days at a time without encountering their colleagues — and supplanted them with a sea of community tables and tightly packed desks. Brito had no quiet office, or even a desk, of his own."
Within months, the perks of Anheuser-Busch employment were gutted. It wasn’t just an end to the free beer, BlackBerry phones had to be handed back, no more free tickets to major sports events, no more business-class air travel and no more fancy hotels.
All of it helped to ensure the Brazilians managed to cut their debt to the predeal level ahead of schedule, earning the management team a US$1.3bn bonus in 2012.
This is the 3G Way — an amalgam of business strategies patched together by founder Jorge Paulo Lemann and Brito over the years. The book Beer Monopoly says they learnt from Sam Walton how to bludgeon suppliers to deliver low prices; they picked up lean manufacturing and efficiency programmes from the Japanese; and from General Electric’s Jack Welch they learnt the 20-70-10 rule, which says promote the top 20% of staff, maintain the 70% in the middle and fire the rest.
Though Welch has been knocked off his pedestal and Walton’s Walmart model is looking shaky, the 3G Way is thriving as supporters believe it stands for merit-based pay, austere budgeting, a spirit of competitiveness and promoting young talent quickly.
Thanks to economic development minister Ebrahim Patel’s interventions, the roughly 6,000 SA jobs are secure for five years, but that shouldn’t provide the locals with too much comfort.
As for the horses, about 18 months after the Anheuser-Busch deal was completed AB InBev management admitted they were charging out the Clydesdales at $2,000 a day.
Obviously the thought of 250 free-loaders just hanging around day after day was more than the Brazilians could handle.