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The founder of the brewing company Heineken

Gerard Adriaan Heineken

Heineken is one of the world’s largest brewing companies and, as such, tends to grow and keep its independence. The birth date of the Heineken brewery goes back to 15.02.1864 - the day when Gerard Adriaan Heineken, aged 22, bought the De Hooiberg brewery in Amsterdam. A consistent export strategy enabled this influential family from Amsterdam to become an important player in the production of beer in the world. Heineken has grown into a brand which is renowned almost everywhere in the world.

Gerard Adriaan Heineken (Amsterdam, 28 September, 1841 - 18 March, 1893) was the founder of the Heineken brewing company. In 1864, he took over the De Hooiberg brewing company (The Haystack). This was the location of the company which, in the next couple of years, became famous outside the Netherlands.

Heineken was the son of a wealthy salesman, Cornelius Heineken and Anne Geertruda Van den Paauw. After his father’s death, Heineken got his wealthy mother to buy the biggest brewery in Amsterdam, De Hooiberg, and he named it Heineken and Co. The De Hooiberg brewery was founded in 1592 and was the largest of 69 breweries in the vicinity of Amsterdam. Three years later, as a man who took an interest in new technology, Heineken travelled across Europe so as to find the best ingredients for his beer. In Germany, he found out about a new production technology, brought it to the Netherlands and also started using A class yeast. With a rapid growth in sales, the brewery in central Amsterdam soon became too small. The construction of a new, larger brewery, located farther from the city center, began in 1867 and was actively used until recently, when it was renovated and turned into an office building.

In 1873, the family business expanded with the establishment of a new, modern brewery in Rotterdam. The port city was, at the time, the centre of the so called underground creative scene, which was allegedly the target group of the Heineken beer producer.

Gerard had a knack for new discoveries in the field of beer production. He introduced bottom beer fermenting and travelled Europe in search of the best ingredients. His beer received numerous international awards, and in order to maintain quality level, the company established its own laboratory, unique in those days. It was there, that the main ingredient quality and end product control was conducted.

In the new laboratories, expert technicians performed experiments with the use of preservatives. Competition in the production of beer grew more intense. The number of breweries in the country topped one thousand. Today, there are only 30 breweries left in the Netherlands.

In 1893, when Gerard Heineken died, his brewery was one of the largest and most important in the Netherlands. However, it took one more generation before Heineken reached world recognition, even though old Gerard sold his beer in France, the Dutch colonies in the Caribbean, and following the lifting of prohibition, Heineken was the first foreign beer to be sold on the American continent. His grandson Alfred Henry Freddy Heineken was responsible for that. At the time, when in 1941, having returned from his studies in America, he started working at his grandfather’s brewery, but it was no longer owned by his family. Henry Pierre, Freddy’s father who was an alcoholic, sold the company after having run it from 1914 till 1940. When he turned 18, he started work carrying sacks of hops, hoping to return the company to its real owners. He advanced through the company to the position of the head of the representative office in New York, where he took an interest in marketing. Freddy secretly bought company shares on the stock market, so that in 1954, he restored this big brewer to the place where it once belonged. Heineken was a marketing master. An ingenious green packaging and creative advertisements using slogans such as “Heineken refreshes the parts which other beers cannot reach” enabled Heineken to breakthrough in the world while hiding the fact that it was actually not a high quality beer in question. When Freddy Heineken retired from his managerial position in the company in 1989, the brewery was the third largest in the world, and whether it was in then guilders or dollars, the creative Dutchman was a billionaire. He was a true bon vivant, with a passion for expensive automobiles, and despite owning private jets, he kept a low profile with respect to his wealth.

”If I were not a brewer, I would have definitely dealt in marketing and advertising. I am fascinated by the way marketing affects people... It is a difficult occupation, especially when dealing with beer advertising. It is the most difficult thing. Beer has been known for thousands of years and there is nothing more to it. At the end of the day, it all comes down to a product. And it has to be good, more importantly, of a consistently good quality. I take a bottle of a bad quality beer as a personal insult.” Alfred Henry Heineken

Nevertheless, Heineken experienced the worst period of his life in 1983. At the beginning of December, he was kidnapped by a gang of five petty criminals. He had spent 21 days a captive, along with his driver Ab Doderer, before the family agreed to pay the required ransom of what is today 16 million euros. The five gangsters were soon arrested, some of them in the Netherlands, some in France, while Frans Meijer, all the way in Paraguay, where he had fled after he had managed to escape from a prison hospital in Amsterdam. It is in this South American state that he was tracked down ten years later, by the Dutch journalist Peter de Vries, so that he would return to serve the sentence.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Eastern bloc became a new target market. It was in those years that Heineken decided to retire from public life. This came after his kidnap, for which the Dutch criminal Cor van Hout and his gang were responsible. Up to the present day, only a small portion of ransom has been recovered, which has surely amounted to millions.

Although the kidnap was well planned, the criminals did not think through a number of things. They did not think where each of them would flee, or what would have happened if the money had not arrived. They were exposed on an anonymous tip, which the Dutch police to the present day do not want to say who the informer was. The money was paid out, Heineken and his driver were released and upon which he then spent two years hunting for the kidnappers. Here, he established one of the most powerful security companies in the Netherlands. Some sources in the Netherlands say that the kidnappers, who in the meantime had become the biggest criminals in the country, never left him alone. Maybe Freddy, who was known as a power obsessed person, encountered his counterparts in that respect. It is said that after the kidnap he was never the same person again, even neglectful of personal birthday invitations by Queen Beatrix. He died suddenly of influenza at the beginning of 2002, aged 78. The entire kidnap was made into a film which stars the brilliant Anthony Hopkins in the role of Heineken.

In 2012, Heineken became a leader in the beer production on the Asian market as well, overtaking the Asia Pacific brewery. The company is now run by Francois van Boxmeer.

Heineken is nowadays the most widespread sold beer in the world. Meeting customers’ needs, special requirements and tastes, Heineken has developed 80 brands of beer, which are produced in 110 brewing companies in over 50 countries, with all these brands no matter how different, having the feature of the Heineken quality in common. Owing to this as well as to the exquisitely developed system of sales and precisely planned marketing activities, Heineken has been the world’s leading imported beer with the highest sales for years.