After Gerard’s sudden death in the spring of 1893, the company was run by a board headed by his wife until his son, Henry Pierre Heineken, took over management in 1914. Henry Pierre eventually took the helm as CEO in 1917 and ran the company until 1940, but he had a weakness for alcohol and sold the family’s stake in 1942.
It took the next generation to restore the family’s control over the brand.
In the space of a few decades, Henry Pierre’s son, Alfred Henry Heineken (popularly known as Freddy), reclaimed what his father had sold and transformed his grandfather’s modest Dutch brewing company into a global brand.
It all started when an 18-year-old Freddy, who was studying in America, wrote his father a prophetic letter:
“I have my mind set on restoring the majority of shares in Heineken into the hands of the family. It’s not my plan to become very rich, but it is a matter of pride that any children I might have can inherit a stake in Heineken, like I did from my father and you inherited from your father.”
Freddy began his career at Heineken carrying sacks of barley, before working in the sales office in New York and succeeding his father as a member of the supervisory board in 1951. After borrowing money, he secretly bought back a controlling stake in Heineken in 1954, was officially appointed to the Heineken executive board 10 years later, and became chairman of the Heineken holding company in 1979.
In addition to his business vision, Freddy had a knack for marketing. In fact, it was his clever green packaging and imaginative use of advertising—which featured such slogans as “Heineken refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach”—that helped Heineken expand its market presence and become a hugely popular brand.
Of course, there was drama along Freddy’s journey to turn Heineken into one of the world’s best-known brands. In 1983, he was kidnapped, along with his driver. The men were chained for weeks before the family paid a ransom. The botched abduction even hit the big screen in 2015 with the release of Kidnapping Freddy Heineken, starring Anthony Hopkins as Freddy.
History would show that Freddy proved true to his plan, and even though he said wealth was not his primary motivation, it came with the territory. When he passed away in 2002 at the age of 78, Freddy was one of the richest people in the Netherlands, with an estimated net worth totalling about 9.5 billion Dutch guilders (about $6 billion Canadian).