I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to either work for, or with, many of the industries leaders in all segments: supplier, wholesaler and even retail. When I first started out, many industry leaders were part of the “greatest generation” and veterans of World War II. Today, many on the supplier side, are young entrepreneurs, some very successful, some just starting to sell beer. Even at the wholesaler level the next generation(s) are taking their place in family owned companies. These leaders on the brewery and supplier side include, but are not limited to, Harry Jersig, Bill and Pete Coors, Russ Cleary, Peter Stroh, Jim Koch, Bill Hackett, Mike Mazzoni, Frank Spinosa, Carlos Alvarez, Jack Joyce, Diane Fall, Albert Cramer, Lutz Issleib, Stan Mace, Glenn McDonald, Mike Mitaro, and Kim Jordan. Obviously, I could also go on with hundreds of names’ of leaders of distributorships I have known.
As a young man in the beer business, I watched how these people led their companies and I followed how well they did. Of course, some were more successful than others. I also studied their failures, too. As the years went by, I watched with less interest in their successes or failures, but was more in tune with how the companies I was responsible for responded under my leadership.
With that in mind, this past year, I read multiple books about the great American Generals and Admirals of WWII. Some of the generals that I studied in detail were, Patton, Nimitz, Leahy, Hasley, and King. Others that I did not spend as much time researching were Bradley, Rommel and Eisenhower. I was interested in what made these leaders great. Was there a common thread each exhibited?
One thing I saw that separated these leaders from others was their willingness to take risks. They put themselves out there, time after time, sometimes failing, but they always did what had to be done and did not take the easy way. When you look at the word “leadership,” each of these great generals had the ability to make others admire them. Additional qualities each of these great leaders possessed included: a commanding presence, the ability to communicate effectively in front of all parties, and of course, they all followed the timeless adage that adversity doesn’t build one’s character, adversity reveals one’s character.
As of late, there has been much discussion on the beer industries leaders or, lack thereof. Why is that? There have been some thoughts that it is due, in part, to the large breweries being managed by foreign interests. Perhaps it is the self-interests of senior management, and if it is, is it entirely their fault? Do today’s leaders really have the experience or skill sets that are needed? For many people, twenty years of experience is really one year of experience repeated twenty times! Do these leaders really know the business from the ground floor up?
While I was at Warsteiner, the company brought in a new export sales director who had no knowledge or understanding of the industry, just a model idea of what he thought the business model should have been. This individual didn’t last long, but the damaged was done. The question remains, what makes a great leader? Or as my ex boss used to say, “fish rot from the head.”