Animal Conservationist. Independent. Good-Hearted.

Virginia Busch with Daisy, a fennec fox  photo by Justin Barr

By Diane Kline

Lions and tigers and wolves, oh my! These are among the animals Virginia “Ginny” Busch wants to save, freely admitting, “I have a fondness for predators.”

The daughter of August Busch III, Busch’s passion for animals began as a child. She grew up on a farm, and also spent every Sunday visiting her grandfather at Grant’s Farm, the site of the Busch family estate, discovering everything from elephants in the backyard to cockatoos in the family room. And during multiple trips to SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, which were formerly owned by Anheuser-Busch, she also got to interact with unusual animals, especially in the nursery.

After graduating from Washington University, Busch worked as director of corporate conservation programs for the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens adventure parks. When InBev bought Anheuser-Busch, what Busch calls “a changing culture” caused her to leave the empire her family created.

But Busch’s mission to conserve animals quickly brought her back to work in 2012 as executive director of the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, Missouri. Now, her focus is protecting the species and dispelling the myth of the “big bad wolf,” noting that wolves are actually shy and fearful of humans. She’s currently overseeing the organization’s next big fundraiser, the 2018 Polo Classic at McGehee Polo Field on Aug. 25.

Busch also sits on the boards of the Wild Earth Allies, World Wildlife Fund, Humane Society of Missouri and Saint Louis Zoo. She and husband Chris Kostman, an orthopedic surgeon, are raising Will, 9, and Amelia, 7, as well as teaching them to love wolves. Here, she shares how family and animals have shaped her thinking and her life.

 

Maned wolf Lucky came along for the photo shoot. photo by Justin Barr

I get my Zen from animals instead of people.

I have more patience for animals, which is why I’m dedicated to their preservation. If all the people vanished from the earth, the animals would be fine. They don’t need us; we need them. Predators are part of every piece of the puzzle. If you lose predators, the population of their prey explodes, affecting the food supply and spreading disease, which, ultimately, affects humans.

Our family—and the family business—was a tapestry.

You can’t separate the two. When InBev bought A-B, the change was abrupt and horrible—not just because of the business or the job, but because it was our family history and legacy. We all rallied around each other. I learned that in business, decisions are for the good of the shareholders, so put on your big girl pants and go on.

“No” or “I can’t” is not part of my vocabulary.

My outlook is usually positive. I don’t like people who play the constant victim. They choose how to live their lives. I was always an independent and responsible kind of kid.  My mom and dad instilled in me that you should always be doing something. If I gave it my best effort, my parents trusted me.

You’re not failing… it’s just your mind set.

Set yourself up for success. For example, on my to-do list, I only put down a few tasks that I have a good chance of completing. If I get more accomplished, fantastic. But if you write down 20 things on your list and get to three, you always feel like you’re failing. Change the way you look at something.

Growing up as a Busch, people made assumptions about who I was.

They thought I must be a spoiled brat. I didn’t grow up in a luxurious setting because my parents are down to earth. They taught me to be driven, not pompous. In her 30s, my mom went to law school—at night! When she took me and my brother to school with her, we’d be coloring in the back of the room while she conducted mock trials. That leaves a lasting impression.

I don’t have the energy for frivolous people.

I don’t like small talk and don’t like people who think too much about themselves or how they’re perceived. They put forth a persona of who they think they should be. I’m not drawn to those people. I only have a handful of close friends—it’s enough.

It’s never over.

There aren’t many things you can wrap up easily. I like challenges and like to fix things, realistically or metaphorically. It’s gratifying to finish something, check that box all neat and tidy, and close that door. But then, there’s always the next thing to tackle.