A few months ago, a friend mentioned that when he was just starting out as a young lawyer in the mid-1990s, he did some work at a law firm here in Prague. One of his projects back then was the contract for a possible sale of Budějovický Budvar to Anheuser-Busch.
That sale never went through, of course, and Budvar and Anheuser-Busch maintain a “frenemy” relationship today, entering into distribution deals for Budvar (only under its “Czechvar” pseudonym) in the United States while continuing international legal battles over the name “Budweiser.”
But talk of Budvar’s sale (subscription required) has returned, as the Prague Daily Monitor news desk reports, via Hospodářské noviny.
This time, it looks like things really are going forward. First up is a tender in January to decide which of three firms will serve as the Czech government’s advisor for the conversion of state-owned Budvar into a joint-stock company — the initial step toward a sale.
Since the advisor has yet to be chosen, it’s hard to guess how this will play out. Initially, the Czech government will hold 100% of the shares. After that, you’ll have to grab your Magic 8-Ball. Will the Czech government maintain a stake and a say in what goes on, just as the German state of Niedersachsen does with Volkswagen? Will the whole thing be sold off in one fell swoop? Or will they make it a publicly traded brewer, like InBev or Sam Adams?
The only thing we know for sure is that the current government hopes to privatize Budvar before its term is up in 2010. Heineken is currently on a buying streak here, picking up Krušovice earlier this year and reportedly in negotiations for the four breweries from Drinks Union (Zlatopramen, Louny, Dačický and Březňák). In fact, given its $9.6 million net profit in 2006 and strong sales growth internationally, I’m sure many groups would love to get their hands on a plum like Budvar. But given its American distribution deal and the, um, affinity for the name, the most likely buyer simply has to be Anheuser-Busch.
Yes, I know that sounds like sacrilege to many beer fans. But if Budvar is privatized, can you imagine that anyone other than Anheuser-Busch would end up owning it? And does anyone out there consider for a second that maybe, just maybe, this might be a good thing — and not only in terms of the reduced legal fees for both companies?
To put it another way, if you were advising the Czech government on the privatization of Budvar, what would you do?
Both reasoned answers and nonsensical howls are welcome in the comments.