In the summer of 1973, a good friend of mine and I decided to apply for a brewery job at AB and Schlitz. By this time I had worked as a helper at Coors during college summer breaks, then as a route salesman for Falstaff in Austin. AB wasn’t hiring at the time but, Schlitz was. My friend and I both got thru the local interview process and were sent to Milwaukee to meet with James Haire, Schlitz’s trainer and head of “Haire U,” which was at that time, considered the best training in the industry. My friend got hired as a District Sales Manager, but I wasn’t offered a job. I did, however, land a job at a local beer distributor as a route supervisor in Dallas. About a year later, I learned that the Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co. had a policy of not hiring anyone under the age of 25. When I interviewed for the position with Schlitz, I was only 23, thus too young to be hired.
At the end of 1980, I had a letter of intent to buy the seventh largest Schlitz wholesaler in the US and had to travel to Milwaukee for purchase approval. Jim Haire was still employeed there and he invited me out to dinner. As much as I wanted to bring up the fact that I was now qualified to buy the distributorship but, apparently was not qualified to even work for them just a few years prior, but I didn’t. Jim retired shortly after that and I never heard from him again.
In 1989, as the GM of Coast Distributors in Portland (now Columbia), I was over eight Coors operations, six of which had won the top award for performance that year, and the other two were runners-up. The company sold to Dick Lytle the next year, and I went back to Texas. Soon after I returned, I interviewed with Coors to run their Oklahoma City Branch. Now figure this, having been named outstanding wholesaler by Coors in 1989, instead they hired a Pepsi person for the OC operation! Really? Does anyone think you lose those skill sets?
Lately, I have been getting one or two vendors contact me each weekly to see if I know of anyone they can interview for specific positions that they have open. In most cases, I been able to provide a name(s) of qualified individuals. I always ask the vendors, “Are you looking for quality or just someone for a location?” So far, to my knowledge, no one has been hired! Myself? I have probably applied for close to 75 positions this summer and so far no interviews. In fact, only three companies have even bothered to respond to my applications, and one was Warsteiner where I was the former President. The headhunter told me these companies “want to go younger.” I guess the Germans are not into age discrimination. One company, the Craft Brewers Alliance, said I wasn’t qualified. Really? Wonder what I’m missing?
My former National Account Manager at Krombacher was one of, if not the hardest working professionals I have had the honor of working with. His home market distributor said the same, and yet he, too, is unemployed. Likewise, my former market director, with 30 years of experience, is also unemployed. So what am I missing here?
This past summer, an industry headhunter told me that in over 20 years he had only placed one person over the age of 52. Now when I’m contacted to help a company find someone, I will always help and I will always recommend someone whom I would hire without reservation. I’ve always felt that the biggest disappointment in the industry is that people don’t get the chance to fail. So the question becomes, how do you know they will fail if they don’t get the chance? I was too young to work for Schlitz, but good enough to buy the seventh largest distributorship. Now I am “too old” for many of these industry positions. I guess I know nothing, except the fact of my ignorance!