Anson Frericks has been giving Anheuser-Busch InBev a lot of free advice since the Dylan Mulvaney crisis hit back in April. He now has some more free advice for the brand: It’s time for the CEO to quit, immediately.
Now, granted, free advice is usually worth what you pay for it, and pretty much any armchair conservative could have told Anheuser-Busch’s CEO to quit a long time ago. The thing is, Frericks isn’t just some armchair conservative, nor is his free advice worthless.
Currently the head of Strive Asset Management, Frerick’s is also the former president of Anheuser-Busch — and, in an open letter published in the U.K. Daily Mail on Saturday, Frericks said Anheuser-Busch CEO Brandon Whitworth has “had multiple chances and he’s failed” to respond adequately to the Bud Light crisis, meaning “[i]t’s time he did the right thing and stepped aside to make way for someone capable of righting the sinking Bud Light ship.”
Frericks noted at the start of the Op-Ed that while the Fourth of July “weekend is make or break” for beer sales, “it looks like the battle has already been lost.”
Furthermore, Frericks said, the transgender “influencer” who started this mess, Dylan Mulvaney, “did something Whitworth should have had the wisdom to do weeks ago – cut ties.
“‘For a company to hire a trans person and then not publicly stand by them is worse than not hiring a trans person at all,’ Mulvaney said in an Instagram post, blasting the company for their failure to ‘reach out to her’ in the aftermath of their ill-advised campaign back in April,” he noted.
And yet, what did the company do? What they’ve done all along, Frericks noted: acted in a way that “was predictably weak and indecisive.”
“As we move forward, we will focus on what we do best – brewing great beer for everyone and earning our place in moments that matter to our consumers,” the company said in a statement.
“What does that mean? Absolutely nothing. And it will only deepen the chasm between the brand and its customers,” Frericks wrote.
“As such – and I take no pleasure in passing this judgement – it’s clear to me that it’s time for the shareholders and board of Anheuser-Busch to ask Whitworth to step down.
“Now, to be clear: I worked with Whitworth for many years at Anheuser-Busch. He personally promoted me twice and eventually made me President of Anheuser Busch Sales & Distribution Co in 2021,” he continued. “We had a good relationship – and I left on my own terms to co-found an asset management company last year.
“So I write this with a heavy heart, not out of spite but because it’s important for Americans to understand how and why corporate leaders can bungle the management of once-iconic American brands so badly, sacrificing countless jobs and invested assets in the process.”
Firstly, Frericks laid out the facts as we all know them: On April 1, Mulvaney posted a video announcing his partnership with Bud Light as part of his “365 Days of Girlhood” transgender transitioning series on TikTok.
“The consumer backlash was immediate,” Frericks wrote, in what may be in contention for understatement of the year. It became worse after podcast comments from now-former Bud Light VP of marketing Alissa Heinerscheid — in which she called the brand’s previous advertising “fratty” and said her mission was to embrace “inclusivity” — went viral.
What failure sounds like. https://t.co/qitS5f9Yms
— Catturd ™ (@catturd2) April 10, 2023
“On April 14th, Whitworth made his first attempt at addressing plunging sales with a flat corporate response that neither mentioned the specific controversy, nor apologized for it,” Frericks wrote.
“Instead of helping, it made things even worse: inflaming both the customers who wanted an apology for the campaign – and those who were sympathetic to Mulvaney and wanted to see the company defend the influencer.”
— Anheuser-Busch (@AnheuserBusch) April 14, 2023
Whitworth, Frericks said, had several opportunities to circumvent Bud Light’s year-over-year sales decline, which approached 30 percent by June and which had taken the beer out of its traditional No. 1 sales position, with Mexican brand Modelo Especial replacing it.
“On June 28th, Whitworth had one last chance to hit the game-saving home run before the critical July 4th holiday,” Frericks wrote. “He made his first public appearance since the debacle on CBS Morning News where he was twice asked by hosts if he would send the can to Mulvaney again or if it had been a ‘mistake.'”
This was, to Frericks, “a softball question. He should have belted it out of the park.” Instead, “both times he deflected, with a clearly rehearsed and evasive answer.”
“He should have said: ‘Of course, it was a mistake. No, we wouldn’t send the can again!’” Frericks wrote. “But he didn’t. Why?
“Because he’s been paralyzed by corporate America’s forced adoption of ‘stakeholder’ capitalism, which preaches to companies about why they must serve activists, politicians, non-governmental organizations and all manner of interests – anyone really apart from their shareholders and customers!”
The problem is that, while ESG scores and DEI seminars may look great on paper, companies still have to sell a product or service. In both word and deed, Whitworth and those around him had decimated the sales of their premier product — and refused to pull out of the the tailspin because to do so would be to offend the asset managers at BlackRock and the LGBT community.
However, therein lies the issue with Whitworth’s decision to appease them while trying to put out the fire the Mulvaney crisis has created.
“The real shareholders are the firefighters, police officers and doctors, whose life-savings – held in pensions and 401ks – are managed by these monster firms,” Frericks wrote. “These are ordinary Americans – who don’t care for virtue signaling and money wasting exercises.”
And that’s all Whitworth has — and seemingly can — offer.
Frericks has sounded the alarm before. Early in the crisis, he told Fox News that “now is the time to go back and, for companies like Anheuser-Busch, to say that, ‘Hey, moving forward for brands like Bud Light, we’re not going to be political. We’re not going to get involved in the environmental social governance movement because that’s not what the customer wants.’”
Early in June, he again rang the alarm bell regarding his former company, saying that “Anheuser-Bush needs to figure out a strategy, it needs to make a statement about who their customers are and who they’re going to serve now, and try and regain those customers now in June and July, because by time it’s August, September, it’s too late.”
It may only be July, but it’s looking pretty late to everyone — particularly Frericks.
And data doesn’t lie. On the week ending June 17, the brand suffered its worst year-over-year drop in sales since the Mulvaney crisis began, according to numbers cited by the New York Post. Bud Light sales dropped 28.5 percent against 2022 sales, beating the previous week’s 26.8 percent drop. Both were records for the brand, indicating the problem was getting worse — and metastasizing to other Anheuser-Busch brands, too.
Nor does the company expect to see sales rebound anytime soon. A Bud Light bottler has shut down two plants, resulting in 645 layoffs; according to WRAL-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina, data show the drop was steep enough that bottle production at the plant in Wilson, North Carolina started to be cut dramatically in May. As of mid-July, it will be cut to zero.
Anton Frericks was there from the beginning, it’s worth pointing out. He gave free advice worth far more than that kind of counsel is usually worth. Tens of billions of lost dollars later, Brandon Whitworth still isn’t taking it. It’s time for him to join Alissa Heinerscheid and the 645 bottle-plant employees on the unemployment line.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.
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