George Jacob is president of Brewers Distributing Company, an Anheuser-Busch wholesaler serving a five-county area in central Illinois. Prior to his career with Brewers, Jacob was a financial consultant at Merrill Lynch.
Jacob, a central Illinois native, graduated from Dunlap High School and went on to receive a Bachelors degree in finance from Northern Illinois University.
He's active in the community, serving on the board of directors at Mid America National Bank; as a trustee for the Greater Peoria Sanitary District; a former Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois Board of Directors member; and is involved in the Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Neighborhood House, and other local charities. Jacob coaches Peoria Youth Hockey, is co-founder of the Moonlight Basketball League, a member of the African American Hall of Fame, and was a member of the 1995 Class of Forty Leaders Under 40.
He and his wife have five children.
Tell about your background, family, schools attended, etc.
My family is originally from Chicago. My dad, Budd Jacob, was transferred downstate in 1968 as a district manager for Anheuser-Busch. He called on a number of AB distributors throughout Illinois and Iowa. I attended Dunlap schools and graduated in 1982. I studied business at Northern Illinois in Dekalb and received my Bachelors degree in finance in 1986. I worked in the beer business for a short while following graduation and then took a position as a financial consultant at Merrill Lynch. I worked at Merrill for a couple of years, then did some traveling. I came back to Brewers in 1991 and worked in various positions throughout the company until becoming president in 2000.
My wife, Jeannine, and I live here in Peoria and are blessed with five wonderful children: George, Jake, Katherine, Tommy, and our newest addition, Ben. I enjoy playing and coaching hockey, motorcycling, and spending time with my family. My partners, Paul Jacob and Meg Jacob, and their families also live in the area.
Tell about the history of Brewers and your family's involvement.
Brewers was established shortly after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. The company was run by the Koch family and was involved in numerous businesses including beer, spirits, candy, and office supplies. Many of these interests were sold off over time. My father began his career at Anheuser-Busch in 1952 and worked in a number of positions. He started out loading boxcars, worked in the warehouse, and was promoted through the company until becoming district manager. We relocated to Peoria in 1968, and my father left Anheuser-Busch to buy into Brewers in 1974. In 1978, he purchased the remaining shares from his partner and became the sole owner in 1978. My father has run the company since then. We built a new, state-of-the-art facility in Pioneer Park in 1999, which is our third location in the area since 1933.
Did you always know you'd be running the family business? Was it something you looked forward to?
Following graduation, my thoughts weren't on the beer business. I had grown up in the business; in fact, my first job when I was eight years old was groundskeeper for the "new" facility, which was built in 1974 on Galena road. That was also my first experience with Labor Law. I was working for what I thought was a huge sum of money ($1 per hour) when one of the guys in the warehouse pointed out that minimum wage was well above that. I immediately filed a grievance!
That summer, and each following, I worked at the facility. It was a great experience. Riding on trucks as a helper, working my way up to fork lift operator and finally to driver, was an excellent learning experience. I finally was able to secure my CDL license and Teamster card and ran delivery routes each summer. It was great to get out among the customers, and it also gave me deep appreciation for how important drivers are to the job. They can make or break the relationship with the retailer. For many years, we've been blessed to have the best in the business. The guys I worked with really cared about their job; it was a profession. I learned a lot from them.
How did your experience at Merrill Lynch help prepare you for running Brewers?
The time spent in the securities business was insightful. It was fun, fast paced, and always interesting. It was great working with people and helping develop plans for their futures. I was blessed to get to participate in Merrill Lynch's training program, which, at that time, was the best on Wall Street. Spending several weeks in Princeton, N.J., was great for a Midwestern guy who had never seen the East Coast. This afforded an opportunity to interact with some really bright and interesting people with incredibly diverse backgrounds. It also taught a healthy respect for the need for individuals and businesses to be very careful about the financial decisions they make both for themselves and their employees. With five children, worries about cash management aren't an issue, but it also provided some great insight to debt management and college planning, so that's been a plus.
How did you transition back into Brewers?
In 1991, I decided to come back into the business working for my father, and we've worked together closely for a number of years. We're blessed to be involved with a corporation like Anheuser-Busch. While most people realize they make fabulous beer, they're also a company that's highly committed to quality in all the things they do. They have very high standards and offer lots of opportunities to develop the skill sets of their staff and of their wholesaler group. My father has slowed down his work hours somewhat-he was one of those 80-plus-hour-a-week guys-but he's still involved in the business. And I want to keep him here for a long time. With more than 50 years in the business, he's forgotten more about it than I'll ever know. He's been a great role model, teacher, and supporter. While any strong-willed people occasionally have differences, at the end of the day, we almost always agree. My dad has been, and always will be, a great inspiration and friend.
Anheuser-Busch has promoted social responsibility with drinking alcohol. Tell about this philosophy.
Anheuser-Busch is on the leading edge of developing and communicating programs to combat all forms of alcohol abuse. Since 1982, AB has spent more than $400 million to communicate the responsible consumption message. A percentage of wholesaler sales goes into consumer awareness and education programs at the local level in every wholesaler territory. These programs are diverse and have included us bringing Barbara Babb, a Life Flight trauma nurse, into local high schools to demonstrate the real-life consequences of drunken driving. We also offer discount cab fares for our customers during the holiday season. As an ongoing way of doing business, we continually provide feedback to ask people to take responsibility for their consumption and their actions.
But we can't do this alone. We're constantly looking to partner with law enforcement, educators, retailers, and parents to help get out the responsibility message. And we've had some excellent results. Drinking among high school seniors is 13 percent lower in 2003 than in 1990 and is 31 percent lower in 2003 than in 1982. Drunken driving fatalities have dropped 37 percent from 1982 to 2002.
Other measures of alcohol abuse are improving as well. Anheuser-Busch has developed and funded programs for parents on how to communicate with their children about the dangers of underage drinking. There's certainly more work to be done, but most measures of alcohol abuse continue to move in the right direction. Probably the most significant differences are the cultural changes that have occurred at all areas of the alcohol industry. Successful retailers are committed to keeping their customers safe and have been aggressive about initiatives including server training to recognize and address situations where alcohol abuse may occur. And the spirit of cooperation between educators, law enforcement, and parents has been beneficial.
The legal age for consuming alcohol in other countries is much lower than in the U.S. Why is that? Do you think the U.S. should review the legal drinking age?
The legal drinking age is set at 21 nationally. We'll continue to abide by the laws of the land.
The DUI laws and enforcement have tightened through the years. Has that affected business in terms of sales, marketing, etc?
There's been an ongoing shift in business from on-premise consumption (bars, taverns, restaurants) to off-premise. The on-premise segment remains a vital part of our local, state, and national economy. These businesses-many of them long-term family businesses-are important employers and pay a lot of taxes. They're concerned about their communities and are concerned about their customers. As a society, we need to be concerned about initiatives that get away from the real problem of drunken driving, which is the high blood alcohol content repeat offender. The man or woman who stops for a cold beer on the way home from work or enjoys a couple of beers with his or her pizza or sandwich isn't the problem. Many of the neo-prohibitionist groups are beginning to target the moderate drinker. Further reductions in legal blood alcohol content (BAC) are targeted at the moderate drinker and are ineffective at curtailing the real problem, which is the hard-core, high BAC, repeat offender. Many times, these individuals are driving on a revoked or suspended license, have other illegal drugs in their system, and are habitual offenders.
How has the company changed through the years to meet the demands of the consumer, in regard to products, service, etc?
The beer distribution business has gone through remarkable changes in the last several years. Increased supplier demands, increased retailer demands-particularly those of the power retailers as consolidation continues among the large retail segment-the increased need for information on a more sophisticated sales call, and improved services have changed the face of our business. This has placed a great deal of pressure on wholesalers to manage information. We're continually looking at methods of improving our processes and the methods we use to provide service to our customer base. Our dynamic management team, lead by General Manager Larry Skehan, Controller Rob Personett, Operations Director David Tidd, and the rest of our capable staff, works hard to meet and address these changing needs.
What are the current products supplied by Brewers? How has that changed in the last decade? Do you see the products changing in the next decade?
We carry a very wide product line that includes the licensed beverages of Anheuser-Busch, Heineken USA, and Labatts USA, among others. We carry approximately 50 brands and 180 packages. The changing tastes and desires by consumers for products to meet those tastes or needs is probably one of the most significant issues driving our business. An example of that is one of our most recent rollouts, Michelob Ultra. This brand wasn't even available until the fourth quarter of 2002 and has become a top 10 selling beer, with a more than 2 percent share of market. The brand, which is unique for its excellent flavor, was perfectly timed to take advantage of the consumer interest in low-carb products, proved to be very successful. Currently, we're also seeing trends with the 21- to 27-year-old consumer looking for sweeter flavored beverages. Anheuser-Busch and the major suppliers will continue to examine the market for opportunities and trends like this and will offer products to meet those changing tastes. We currently have a joint venture with Bacardi to produce and market the Bacardi Silver line of flavored alcohol beverages and are looking at new brands and products to meet these changing tastes.
You're involved in the community through the Chamber, United Way, Neighborhood House, and political groups. What's your philosophy for volunteerism?
Brewers Distributing firmly believes that, as a member of the community, we should give back to the communities in which we work, live, and do business. We enjoy being involved in and supporting many local initiatives including Moonlight Basketball, United Way, Neighborhood House, Easter Seals, St. Jude, and many others. I'm also continually amazed at the level of giving many of our retail customers are involved in. So many local sports teams, charities, and neighborhood benefits are recipients of the financial support and goodwill of the bars, taverns, and restaurants. These folks genuinely care about their communities and neighborhoods. It's a challenge to walk into a retail establishment-on- or off-premise-and not find them doing something to benefit the community. They often don't get the credit they so richly deserve for the support they're providing-often in a very quiet way. These customers are truly members of the community, and we're fortunate to have them.
You also involve your company in charitable events. How do you decide which community events to support? Does the company's philosophy encourage your employees to give back as well?
Brewers is blessed with a very committed and hardworking staff, and they're very involved in their communities. This may be as a youth sports coach, doing charitable work, or providing financial support of outstanding groups like the United Way. We encourage all of our team members to be involved and be ambassadors for our company in their neighborhoods. All of us have families and care deeply about the places in which we live and do business.
You recently received an award from the African American Hall of Fame. Tell about that.
The induction to the African American Hall of Fame was an honor. Brewers has long attempted to reach out to all members of our community. We have a very diverse and rich cultural heritage in this area, and we feel a strong obligation to serve all segments of our community. We've actively participated in many initiatives to do this, including Moonlight Basketball, the Tri-County Urban League, the Budweiser Urban Scholarship Program that provides scholarships to deserving students that may not have the financial resources to attend college, and others. We choose to look at our diverse community as a richly woven fabric that's a strength-not a weakness.
Is there anything else you'd like us to know about Brewers?
Brewers Distributing, its owners, management, and staff are committed to running our business ethically and responsibly. We're blessed to live and work in the five-county area we serve. This is truly an extraordinary community in which to live, work, and raise a family. We're committed to quality in everything we do. We believe firmly that our products, when consumed responsibly by adults, add enjoyment and fellowship to life and are part of the American way of life. We'll continue to combat alcohol abuse, celebrating successes in this area while recognizing that there's more work to be done. We believe responsibly enjoying an ice cold, brewery fresh beer at the end of a day is one of life's small pleasures, and we're very proud of our industry. We also deeply appreciate the friendships and business relationships we enjoy with our customers in the area. Thanks for the business. IBI