NOVEMBER 22, 2001

The truth about Interbrew

THERE are lots of rumors currently circulating in Formula 1 circles about a deal between the Belgian brewing giant Interbrew and Prost Grand Prix. The stories have suggested that Interbrew or one of its major shareholders is interested in buying into the team and that the company could end up as a sponsor of the revived operation.

Interbrew, which was formed in 1987, has a record of acquisitions, the most recent of which Jaguar Racing sponsor Beck's. That deal received European Union clearance only a few weeks ago. The company owns a wide variety of beer brands including Stella Artois, Labatt, Rolling Rock and Bass.

Interbrew is a listed company but the public owns only 35.25% of the shares. The majority (about 63%) is held by a holding company representing the interests of a group of Belgian brewing families. The major players in this are the De Spoelbergh, De Mevius, Van Damme, Adriaenssen, d'Ansembourg and de Calesberg families. Each of these families have a seat on the Interbrew main board and together have enough votes to retain control of the business. They also have strong connections throughout the rest of the Belgian business community.

On a day to day basis, however, the company is run by Englishman Hugo Powell who has been in charge of the business since 1999. Prior to that he was head of the company's North American operations after Interbrew's takeover of Labatt in 1995. Powell joined Labatt in 1984. It is worth noting that during his years at the head of Labatt the company was active in motor racing, being a major sponsor of Williams from 1990 to 1993 (the last year of which featured Alain Prost as one of the drivers).

Now that Powell is running the entire company it is possible that Interbrew may decide to go racing but up to now its involvement in the sport has been limited as its brand policy has been to promote brands in local markets.