Like many college students, I was uncertain about the direction of my professional career following graduation. During the summers I worked as an assistant on Coors beer trucks and it was at that time that I developed an interest in the beer industry as a potential career. It became clear to me that in the industry, one could work for either a brewery or a distributor.
These two employment options remained static until the 90s when the beer industry digested the Bush administration’s doubling of the federal excise taxes. It took years for the industry to return to its annual growth rate and for companies to begin the hiring process following the legislative act. During this time the beer business experienced extremes in cultural differences within certain companies.
Perhaps the most desirable beer importer to work for was Wisdom Imports. This company hosted a growing and fun portfolio along with an employee-centric culture. All that changed, however, when InBev bought Labatt’s. Sound familiar?
During the same time period, Modelo was imported by Gambrinus and Barton Beers. While both companies had similar portfolios, the cultures of the two distributors were polar opposites. Many previous AB, Miller, or Coors employees who transferred employment to Gambrinus had the perception that they could easily adapt to the Gambrinus culture. They soon discovered they were only kidding themselves.
Perhaps the personification of a culture change was the dramatic shift instituted by InBev during their take-over of AB. Most former AB employees lamented those changes as they moved on to other brewers and careers.
Likewise, many of today’s successful crafts have also undergone cultural changes. When a start-up craft begins to find some traction in the market, the company’s culture begins to shift. Over time, brewers like Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and Founders have discovered that experienced and professional beer executives are needed to continue the growth curve.
With 7,000 breweries currently in the market and more to come, the talent pool is limited. A big challenge is for potential employees to decide with which brewery to hang their hat. Will the potential brewer meet the expectations of the employee? Because many small, start-up brewers work with an unstructured entrepreneurial culture, few provide much in the way of policies or procedures.
Recently a young, highly qualified sales rep with a new brewer was concerned over the lack of structure in his company. Perhaps this individual would have preferred a more structured and formal company, though he may not have realized such a need for more structure without first experiencing work in a start-up brewery. This is especially true for those individuals who have high career aspirations.
Many early employees of Sierra, New Belgium, and Founders have moved on as these breweries were no longer a fit. Finding the right culture is a challenge for both the brewery and for the individual. Perhaps this is the underlying reason that companies attest that they cannot find qualified employees and qualified employees say they cannot find top jobs.
Keeping customers is about the experience, and frequently the employees control the culture and temperature of the business. Never forget that.