Climbing Jacob's New Ladder; Former NUL President John Jacob's New Job: To Watch over the Corporate Image of Anheuser-Busch

By Scott, Matthew S. | Black Enterprise, September 1994 | Go to article overview

Climbing Jacob's New Ladder; Former NUL President John Jacob's New Job: To Watch over the Corporate Image of Anheuser-Busch


Scott, Matthew S., Black Enterprise


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.

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