As reported yesterday afternoon, Pabst is set to be acquired by CPG tycoon C. Dean Metropoulos, the low profile billionaire who has turned around such brands as Duncan Hines, Armour, Vlasic Pickles, Mrs. Paul's, Chef Boyardee, Jiffy Pop, and Log Cabin Syrup, among others. The deal is not final, and is contingent on financing we hear. But it's imminent if such financing can be secured.
You'll recall that BBD reported that Pabst was close to a deal with a tycoon of Greek descent back on May 7 based on a well-placed source, but details of the deal were still being worked out at the time. It is apparent that his financing is close to being in order and the deal is ready to be struck, if the money is there.
The bottom line is that Pabst Brewing Co. had to sell. It is owned by the non-profit Kamanovitz Trust, which the IRS declared repeatedly since 1996 couldn't own a for-profit business. The board of the trust, strangely occupied by Catholics even though Kamanovitz was Jewish, resisted. The IRS, apparently unable or unwilling to hold strong against Jesuits, continued to grant extensions until this year, when they finally said the gig was up. The Trust had originally asked $600+ million, but with no takers it is likely it is going for substantially lower than that. They also were resistant, we've heard, to selling the brands individually, preferring to sell them together. We also note that there had been some strife between the board and management (recall that vp Abbott Wolf left and then returned within hours last year). Enter this white knight.
So what does Metropoulos bring to Pabst? He fancies himself a turnaround artist with ailing CPG brands, with ample justification. He tells Neo Magazine: "I'm in the acquisition business, and I love it. I love finding opportunities, negotiating the deals, repositioning the businesses, many of which are troubled, though many are not. Even with healthy companies, you can still find wonderful ways to make them grow organically or via strategic add-on acquisitions. There are many opportunities out there that need energy, focused hands-on management and financial expertise." Born in Greece, he came across the pond at a young age and won a scholarship to college and eventually wound up working for GTE as their youngest VP before he started buying up companies.
He started in the CPG business in his father-in-law's feta cheese company, Stella Foods, in Vermont in 1981. He helped take the company from $12 million in sales to $780 million, due to 15 acquisitions of mostly higher-margin makers of specialty cheeses like Gorgonzola and Parmesan.
Forbes called him "Mr. Shelf Space" after these cheese deals caught the eye of Hicks, Muse in 1993. Metropoulos agreed to advise them on all CPG deals and take over management of the companies they acquired as well as investing his own gold into them. "We would never buy a company that Dean did not recommend," says Thomas Hicks, chief executive of Hicks, Muse to Forbes. "He's got a great eye for valuing a deal and seeing its potential." Ironically, Hicks Muse took a bath on G. Heileman, Pabst's predecessor, back in the 1980s. Regardless, Hicks Muse made him a playa in CPG.
Metropoulos says that his bankers have always been pleased with his results. "No one has ever been disappointed. You can talk to JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Lehman, or Bank of America and the feedback will be one of consistent respect. Integrity and performance is how they define CDM & Co. [his company]. Our integrity is everything. I always say that to the boys, and their mother reinforces it stronger than I do."
When he says "the boys", he is referring to his two sons in their late twenties who have lead high profile lives, Evan and Daren Metropoulos, with one buying Hugh Hefner's house next to the Playboy mansion. He has placed these boys in high positions within his companies from a very early age, and they no doubt will play a role in Pabst. For instance, as teenagers they brokered a deal with Chef Boyardee and the World Wrestling Federation. They also heard Howard Stern talking about Bumble Bee Tuna, another brand Metropoulos owned, and cut a deal to sponsor the Stern show. They also somehow placed Gulden's Mustard as a major plot point in a Jennifer Aniston movie.
Says Metropoulos: "I respect them because they do push me harder than I've ever been pushed. They're very bright and very creative. But I tell them to root all their decisions on business fundamentals and have integrity and compassion above all. And we all agree, if you don't enjoy what you're doing, don't do it. We all love what we're doing and we love working with each other."
So what will they do with Pabst? Well, as we all know, beer ain't beenie weenies. And it isn't mustard or pickles. It's a different animal entirely. And PBR in particular is a non-brand that responds mainly to non-advertising, i.e. stealth advertising like having artists paint murals featuring the brand in strange ways. Will Metropoulis and his sons maintain that "under the radar" mojo? Perhaps. They certainly seem like they have entree to venues that most beer guys don't. The question is will it goose the brands into continued and accelerated growth, or harm them? That, my friends, is the question.
Until tomorrow, Harry
"Human beings are the only creatures on earth that allow their children to come back home."
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