Philip Morris’ purchase of the Miller Brewing Company in 1970 changed the fabric of beer operations. The purchase also marked the beginning-of-the-end for WWII and Korean War veterans who were, at that time, running the industry. The purchase simultaneously launched the takeover of the Baby Boomers within the beer industry. AB was hit right between the eyes by Miller’s aggressive marketing and immediately ramped up their efforts by initially hiring young, college-educated individuals, many with MBAs. Beer professionals of the Greatest Generation were not prepared for such a change in the industry. Many retired, while others moved to distributors before wholesalers changed to the pre-sell concept. Numerous distributorships were available to buy, often marketed for sale in the Wall Street Journal.
By the mid-1980s, the Greatest Generation had disappeared from an industry that was now run by Boomers. History, however, does repeat itself as we witness the last of the Boomers nearing retirement. Boomers born in the late 1950s and early 1960s are currently in their early 60s and late 50s; while older Boomers, those born immediately following WWII, have already left the industry, many due to InBev initiated cutbacks following the purchase of AB.
Crafts, often interested in designing their own unique business models, ignored experienced professionals and instead choose to employ young, inexperienced workers. The advent of the Coronavirus and its negative effect on the industry has impacted the craft brewers’ industry. Many crafts have gone out of business with more expected to follow suit. Even larger, more successful brewers have been negatively impacted by the virus in largely unanticipated ways. Brewers with employees in their late 50s and 60s are facing questions regarding the future of operations as the on-premise opens up and chains beginning to reset appointments.
Many older employees, who are considered more susceptible to the Corona virus, are not willing to leave their homes, yet brewers who are under pressure to ramp-up production, need these employees in the market. HR departments at the breweries will support older employees, while younger bosses and younger employees are out and making calls. What brewers could be facing is the fact that older employees might not feel safe until a vaccine becomes available; something which might not occur until next year. If such is the case, will HR departments support the older employees?
Employees in their late 60s could be offered attractive severance and retirement packages, similar to actions taken by InBev did in 2008. Such packages could be considered a win/win for both parties. Those in their late 50s, however, could be in a more precarious position. They may not yet be ready to retire; while at the same time may not be comfortable returning to the marketplace. How will brewers and some wholesalers handle such employees? As more accounts open, it might soon be all hands-on deck.
Even with the closing of the on-premise, many brewers and wholesalers have logged record sales days, weeks, and months. Now, however, brewers are experiencing a serious and unforeseen scenario. How companies deal with their employees will speak volumes.
I don’t worry about a number; I am fine with aging.