Holiday Inn, Dial Soap & Other Famous Not-So-American Brands
Anheuser-Busch's announced sale to Belgian brewing giant InBev has been cause for considerable consternation among many members of the media, who seem to think that selling a company so firmly grounded in the American way of life is downright unpatriotic. To hear many people tell it, selling the makers of Budweiser to a foreign conglomerate is tantamount to selling nuclear secrets to Iran, burning a flag, or saying, "No thanks, I don't like apple pie that much." Some digging, though, reveals that lots of brands we think of a "solidly American" are in fact owned by foreign investors.
Miller Brewing Company
You don't even have to leave the beer market to find a company that's been through a transition similar to the one facing Anheuser-Busch. Milwaukee's Miller Brewing, Budweiser's closest competitor, isn't owned by American interests anymore, either. In 2002, South African Breweries bought a controlling interest in Miller by shelling out $3.6 billion in stock and taking on $2 billion of Miller's debt. The deal created the world's largest brewer, which took on the new hybrid name of SABMiller. The company, which also makes such imports as Peroni, Grolsch, and Pilsner Urquell is headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa.
What could be more American the Holiday Inn, whose "great signs" were a key icon of classic vacations of the 1950s? Kemmons Wilson opened the first Holiday Inn in Memphis in 1952, and by 1957 owned an exploding chain of franchises. In a seemingly unrelated development in 1989, the British government put the kibosh on breweries owning too many of their own pubs in the U.K. In response, the brewers of Bass started to grow their hotel business. In 1988, Bass started acquiring Holiday Inn's international operations, then bought up the domestic hotels in 1990. The move did so well that Bass actually got out of the beer business by divesting itself of its brewing operation and trademarks in 2000 and switched its name to Six Continents PLC, which later morphed into InterContinental Hotels Group, which currently owns all Holiday Inns.
The name "Lucent" may not ring a lot of bells, but it had a history as a firmly American concern. In fact, Lucent was originally part of AT&T; it was known as AT&T Technologies and specialized in telecomm equipment manufacturing. When AT&T split into three companies in 1996, Lucent became a stand-alone spinoff, and it stayed that way for a decade. Then, in 2006, French competitor Alcatel swallowed Lucent as part of an $11 billion acquisition. The renamed company, Alcatel-Lucent, is headquartered in Paris.
Firestone is probably ingrained in your brain as one of America's oldest tire companies, a venerable institution that dates back to early-20th-century Akron. However, after years of taking huge losses and running up billions in debt, the company put itself on the market in 1988. Japanese tire company Bridgestone bought Firestone for $80 a share, or roughly $2.6 billion.
After its inception in 1919, Columbia Pictures cranked out some of America's favorite films, including Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, one of the most iconic screen visions of American patriotism and integrity. Other major hits in the studio's archives include On the Waterfront, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Ghostbusters. However, the company's not in American hands. Coke briefly owned the company in the 1980s but allegedly talked itself out of the entertainment industry when Ishtar flopped. After a couple of years as a stand-alone company at the end of that decade, Japanese electronics colossus Sony bought Columbia for $3.4 billion in cash in 1989 to bolster its entertainment portfolio.
Just reading the name "DKNY" might make you think the company is American. After all, it stands for "Donna Karan New York." However, its cash flows run to Paris, not New York. French holding company LVMH Moet Hennessy"“Louis Vuitton made an aggressive bid to buy the company in 2001, and as a result designer Donna Karan's brainchild moved into foreign hands as part of a $243 million purchase. It's now nestled in LVMH's portfolio alongside other luxury spirits, fashion labels, and cosmetics.
Richard Hellman was at the forefront of the condiment industry when he opened a delicatessen in New York and started selling his wife's mayonnaise in 1905. In 1932, Best Foods bought out Hellman's burgeoning mayo empire, and the brand bounced around various companies' portfolios until Best Foods became an independent company in 1995. In 2000, though, Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever gobbled up Best Foods for $20.3 billion in stock and $4 billion in debt. Along with Hellman's, Unilever picked up several other well-known food brands, including Skippy peanut butter, Karo syrup, and Entenmann's baked goods.
Dial originated in 1948 as America's first deodorant soap; it was originally an offshoot of Chicago-based meat processor Armour and Company. It has had a tumultuous history, including a period of ownership by Greyhound, which was perhaps a clever attempt to synergize based on the dirty feeling one has after a long bus ride. By 1996 Dial was solely a hygienic products and cleaning company once again, and then in 2004 it was purchased by German consumer product Henkel KGaA, which also owns brands like Duck Tape and Persil detergent. Henkel dropped $2.9 billion to pick up the soapmaker, in part because it thought Dial's portfolio would play well in developing markets.
Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.
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