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Climbing Jacob's new ladder; former NUL president John Jacob's new job: to watch over the corporate image of Anheuser-Busch.

THE INVITATION TO GO QUAIL HUNTING LAST DECEMBER SEEMED ODD AT FIRST TO John E. Jacob. He had never hunted before, and Anheuser-Busch Chairman and President August Busch III had called it "a rendezvous for conversation."

And why not? It had been only two months since he had announced that he would be retiring as president of the National Urban League (NUL) in 1994, and Jacob was looking for something other than golf to occupy his free time. Boy, did he find it on this trip.

Somewhere secluded in the outback of Georgia, while engaged in a huntsman's pursuit, John Jacob stepped forward into the corporate elite. With only the wilderness as witness, Jacob was craftily recruited to become executive vice president and chief communications officer for Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc., the world's largest brewer. After years of fighting for full equality for African-Americans, one of freedom's gladiators was now reaping the fruits of his own labor. Jacob, the "outside," was now in.

Jacob's climb to the executive suite did not take the traditional route. Most professionals in corporate America pay their dues for 15 years before reaching the executive vice president plateau. But black America's premier lobbyist sidestepped that route by making others as comfortable with his mastery of the corporate mind-set as he is in one of his smartly tailored suits. Jacob, 59, served admirably on the Anheuser-Busch board of directors since 1990, where he demonstrated superior analytical and communication skills. Now he is one of only two executive vice presidents at the $13 billion corporation. He directs the company's communications activities, including public relations, consumer awareness and education, environmental compliance and industry concerns. And because he is the only person besides Chairman Busch to hold seats on both the board of directors and policy committee, he wields broad influence over company advertising and marketing strategy, and has the power necessary to make significant change.

So, why Jacob--and why now?

"We knew John was a highly capable executive with an understanding of the attitudes and concerns that are reshaping our country," says Busch. "We wanted to maximize our ability to benefit from that insight and perspective."

Perhaps Anheuser-Busch is sending a not-too-subtle message to corporate America by betting its fortunes on Jacob's insight and perspective. The country is changing and the beer industry faces the threat of new taxes tied to health care reform. New taxes will sap profits, so the industry is also looking to generate new sources of revenue. That means finding nonoffensive ways to attract black and Hispanic consumers at home, and heavy lobbying to open markets to American brewers abroad. New insights are needed.

As chief communications officer for the beer giant, Jacob's every maneuver will be scrutinized because his decisions will impact the entire industry. But the scope of the challenge doesn't faze the former not-for-profit executive. After 12 years of leading an organization with scarce resources, Jacob feels he is prepared for anything. "If you think beer is hard to sell," he says with a grin, "try selling intangible notions like freedom and justice."

Selling freedom and justice was a passion for the native of Trout, La. After earning a master's degree in social work from Howard University in 1965, Jacob joined the Washington Urban League as director of education and youth incentives. His 29-year career with NUL included stints as director of the San Diego and Washington, D.C., affiliates.

In 1982, Jacob succeeded Vernon Jordan as the sixth president of the nation's leading social service and civil rights organization. During a period of political and financial retrenchment for black civil rights groups, he enacted major initiatives that he says have left the organization "strong, soild and viable."

His greatest accomplishment has been the establishment of NUL's Permanent Development Fund. What started out as a $4.5 million Ford Foundation grant (which NUL had to match) turned into a $15 million war chest, with help from corporate givers and other foundations.

Jacob says there is still more than $8 million in the fund. He explains in typical corporate-speak, "We freed the organization from the encumbrances of debt and put in place a pool of funds that we can use as circumstances require."

During Jacob's tenure, the fund kept the organization operational while NUL initiated the first "Stop the Violence" campaigns, began national awareness programs on black fatherhood and male responsiblity and developed many education initiatives, including a partnership with Merrill Lynch. The partnership deposits $2,000 a year for twelve years into bank accounts for 250 youngsters who will graduate in the year 2000.

Managing an organization with chapters in 113 cities successfully was no easy task. "Running this organization was an awesome responsibility," Jacob asserts. "You have detractors both within and without." People and money were always in short supply, and many times community support would waver as well.

But Jacob's zeal to get the job done never wavered. During tough times, he would leverage his knack for bringing together different groups of people to explore new ideas, raise money and provide support. He met annually with corporate and foundation leaders such as Anthony Burns, CEO of Ryder System Inc., and Dr. Bernard Watson, former head of the William Penn Foundation; African-American executives such as BLACK ENTERPRISE publisher Earl G. Graves and Virgis Colbert, senior vice president of plant operations for Miller Brewing Co.; and key figures inside NUL such as John Mack, director of NUL's Los Angeles office. Jacob's ability to forge alliances with these diverse groups is a trump card he plays to keep him knowledgeable, informed and in touch with opposing ideas and opinions, and allows him to effectively broker agreements between communities and businesses. It helped him persuade Anheuser-Busch to send $1.3 million in jobs programs and other aid to Los Angeles after the '92 riots.

Unfortunately, Jacob wasn't able to forge a sustained consensus of action within NUL. Because NUL is spread out over 113 cities, Jacob believes each community tends to act in its own best interest. "As great as I think our efforts in education have been, we simply have too many efforts going...If we decided which one piece of this problem we want to take on, we could have a national impact far greater than the individual community impacts that we have had," he stresses.

The challenge of forging NUL's organizational oneness will fall on Jacob's successor, Hugh B. Price. Price, 52, is a Yale Law School graduate and most recently served as a senior officer at the Rockefeller Foundation. He has a wide range of experience including running a criminal law practice, serving as senior vice president of WNET-TV in New York and coordinating New Haven, Conn.'s Head Start program and services for youth and senior citizens.

"I bring some creative thinking to the kinds of initiatives we're going to have to come up with," says a confident Price. "I have a combination of policy, management and ground experience."

Price has already outlined a preliminary agenda. His main objectives are to upgrade children's academic and social skills, restore the inner city labor market and defuse racial issues. Although Jacob advises he attend to the "oneness issue" immediately, he says, "[Price] will do well. He's incredibly bright."

What will Jacob's impact be?

The brewing industry has been enjoying a bit of a reprieve since reports have linked some health benefits to moderate drinking. Although that's relatively good news, it hasn't helped beer sales. After a 3% surge in 1990, sales have stabilized at about $49 billion (190 million barrels) a year. This is largely due to increased beer taxes, which created higher prices, and the industry's own efforts to promote responsible drinking.

To stimulate sales, the industry is creating new markets. Brewers are looking to expand their overseas operations, cultivate "untapped" minority markets and create new brand categories, such as "ice" beers. Companies such as Anheuser-Busch are cultivating opportunities outside of the beverage industry. Each of these approaches creates its own set of problems--problems that Jacob will have to help find solutions for.

Armed with a $32 million budget, he will wage a war of "good will," and try to convince the general public that a product that contributes to 100,000 alcoholrelated deaths in the United States each year can be enjoyed by most people if it's used responsibly. Anheuser-Busch board member Peter Flanigan says Jacob will excel in the job because he has "the ability to weigh the evidence, probe the various arguments and then conclude what's in the best long-term interest of the company." He adds: "His ability to communicate is outstanding."

Anheuser-Busch has recently expanded into China, Japan and Mexico, with further plans to expand into Asia. To succeed in these markets and others, the differences in how each culture views alcohol consumption must be a primary consideration. The challenge, says Jacob, is to grow the business and promote responsible drinking "without being perceived as intrusive and trying to tell a foreign culture how to behave."

A similarly delicate approach must be used to increase domestic sales among blacks and Hispanics. Advertising campaigns of G. Heileman Brewing (PowerMaster) and McKenzie River Brewing (St. Ides) have come under fire for their street-oriented marketing campaigns in minority communities. For some, any attempt to reach out to minorities, who suffer disproportionately higher rates of alcohol-related afflications, is unacceptable. And there are other considerations in the marketing of beer.

"I don't think they ought to stop selling their beer," says activist Rev. Calvin Butts. "But I would like them to stop using the billboards in black communities to sell their beer. I would like them to stop associating the drinking of beer with important sporting events and things that are important to the development of children." Butts and other community activists have whitewashed countless bill-boards to make their point.

To its credit, Anheuser-Busch has not targeted aggressive advertising at minorities or children. But Jacob will still have to answer to critics of other alcohol beverage companies. In a perfect world, Jacob would like to have his 17-member staff and himself "so in tune that we're not at war with our communities about our product; that we as a company have been so thoughtful and considerate that [communities] will know that even when we make a mistake, it was not our intent, and that it was not done to exploit."

His sterling civil rights record will help. "Hiring Jacob was a smart move," says Robert Hammond, director of the Alcohol Research Information Service in Lansing, Mich. "It would enhance any company's reputation. They didn't just pick his name out of the Yellow Pages."

The creation of new brand categories has fueled debate over the amount of alcohol in beer and whether alcohol content levels should be disclosed. "Where some of the ice-beer imports have a higher percentage of alcohol, our company has determined that it is not going to be pushed into changing the alcohol level of its ice-beer products to meet that kind of competition," says Anheuser-Busch board member Judge William H. Webster. "We believe in moderation."

The company can afford to keep its stance on moderation for now, but the beer industry fears that if brewers are forced to disclose alcohol content, consumers may opt for higher potency beers. Most beers contain 5% alcohol, and malt liquors 6% or higher. King Cobra Malt Liquor, Anheuser-Busch's most potent beverage, contains 5.8% alcohol and accounted for 3% of the firm's 87.3 million barrels sold last year.

Jacob will take up the fight against alcohol content disclosure and stress moderate drinking. As the industry leader with a 44% share of the market, and the leading maker of non-alcohol brew, this is definitely in Anheuser-Busch's best interest. This approach will also help fend off politicians seeking additional taxes on beer, whether it is related to national health care or other local concerns.

While those wars are waging, Jacob will also have to educate the public about Anheuser-Busch's other companies. The increased visibility of Campbell Taggart, a fresh-baked goods concern; Eagle Snacks, a snack-food company; and Busch Entertainment, which manages the Busch Gardens, SeaWorld and Cypress Gardens theme parks could improve Anheuser-Busch's bottom line.

Jacob's experience forging alliances and his skill at getting a lot from a little make him an attractive match for his new job. Now his survival game with corporate America begins. Let's hope it's as successful as his quail hunt.
COPYRIGHT 1994 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:National Urban League
Author:Scott, Matthew S.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Biography
Date:Sep 1, 1994
Words:2072
Previous Article:25 years of blacks in franchising.
Next Article:50 years and going strong.
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