Heineken might not be up for sale, but shareholders deserve more transparency, writes Nyenrode Business Universiteit’s programme director Jan Maarten Slagter.
Freddy Heineken’s spirit was surely made manifest at the offices of Heineken’s advertising agency last week. The full-page advert which was printed in every Dutch newspaper on Saturday was a true homage to the man who made the company great and whose marketing sense was second to none.
At the same time it was a declaration of independence. ‘Of course we’re for sale’ the ad said in bold Heineken-green letters. Underneath a frothy beer in the middle of the page came the punchline, in slightly smaller print: (‘In more than 10,000 locations in the Netherlands’).
In other words: Anyone can buy Heineken products – please do. But the company itself is out of bounds.
Not for sale
The advert is the popular translation of a press statement given out by the brewery last weekend. In it Heineken said it had been approached by British competitor SABMiller with a takeover proposal which it had subsequently spurned.
The company had discussed the offer with its majority shareholder Heineken Holding, which has 50.05% of the shares, and had come to the conclusion that SABMiller didn’t stand a chance.
The statement added that the Heineken family, which owns 52% of Heineken Holding, is determined to preserve Heineken’s ‘heritage and identity as an independent company’.
The management as well as the family have every confidence in the continued ‘growth and shareholder value’ of the company. The last sentence in the five sentence statement is as final as it is arrogant: ‘Heineken are not making any public announcement regarding this statement.’ Apart from the advert a week later, of course.
It’s a nice moment for the fans of the indomitable Gauls. We may have lost KLM, Douwe Egberts and Verkade to foreign invaders but one company is still holding out against globalisation. But putting rampant Orange sentiment aside for a moment, we have to conclude that what Heineken has done is unworthy of a listed company.
Heineken is not only for sale in 10,000 outlets but also on Beursplein 5. Heineken and Heineken Holding have thousands of shareholders who together put in three quarters of the brewery’s capital.
The fact that the family, with just over 25% of the capital, still holds the reins is down to the stepped holding construction which Freddy Heineken introduced in order attract fresh money without losing control of the company.
That doesn’t detract from the fact that Heineken’s board of directors – and that of Heineken Holding – should also represent the interest of people whose last name does not happen to be Heineken.
For this category of shareholders, the ‘heritage and identity of Heineken as an independent company’ may not be as vital. A return on their investment probably is. Of course, everyone who invests in Heineken knows what he is letting himself in for, but to have a serious takeover bid rejected without even referring to the numbers (the amount was not mentioned in the press statement) is no longer done.
Heineken shareholders should be given more transparency – not the finger in the shape of a glass of beer in their Saturday newspaper.
Jan Maarten Slagter is programmme director at Nyenrode Business Universiteit.
This column was previously published in the Telegraaf.
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