When a corporation gets too big, it often loses the culture and passion that made it successful originally. I experienced the exact opposite when I visited New Belgium Brewing Company, the 4th largest craft brewery in the US.
I’ve toured upwards of 70 breweries and they can usually be slotted into two stages of business:
– Growth/Expansion Stage. The brewery that moved out of the basement to an old warehouse and serves great craft beer to the locals. At this point, their passion is driving everything, the sky is the limit, and they are starting to perfect their business operations to continue to grow.
– Mature Stage. The successful mega-brewery with nationally known flagship beers, a monster production line, and the brand recognition to drive additional business through their brewery tours. At this point, they are a corporation with hundreds of employees and a concentration on beer sales volume.
Let’s be clear, I don’t care what stage a brewery is in as long as they serve good beer!
However, it is unique to find a mega-brewery (or any large corporation) where the energy and passion for their product has remained unchanged over the years. How has New Belgium been able to rapidly grow their business while staying true to their original ideals?
Co-Founder Kim Jordan made 3 key business decisions that differentiate New Belgium from their competition:
#1: Employee Ownership.
New Belgium is 100% owned by its 480 employees. Kim Jordan started giving her employees an ownership stake in New Belgium through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) in 2000. Ownership is awarded after one year of employment and they have been completely employee-owned since 2013.
Why is this important? Because their employees have a vested stake (and risk) in the business. Through their daily actions and ideas, employees have the opportunity to contribute to the success of New Belgium. The ESOP program gives a voice and platform for employees to make recommendations/improvements on the processes they work on daily. Does this make them more invested in their jobs? Heck yes! Literally and figuratively. It’s called empowerment, folks.
Fun Fact: In addition to an ownership stake, New Belgium also gives their employees a cruiser bike at the end of their first year. Why? Read more about their history here.
#2: Fiscal Transparency
Balance sheets, Accounts Payable, Profit/Loss Statements. EVERYTHING is public to their employees. Kim Jordan believes in “Open Book Management” and complete fiscal transparency.
Why is this important? It inspires trust and loyalty. There aren’t any proverbial ‘skeletons in the closet’ or C-level execs who make decisions without employees knowing. The unknown is always scary. At New Belgium, the numbers are transparent. When employees trust the vision of their leadership and believe it in, it is amazing what can be accomplished.
#3: Core Values
New Belgium established their core values early. They wanted to produce world-class beers, promote craft beer culture, sponsor environmental stewardship, and have fun.
Every business has core values. What is so revolutionary about New Belgium’s values? Nothing! The key distinction is that they stick to their core values daily and use them as guidance for every business decision.
Most businesses get lost in sales/profits and take a shortcut somewhere along the line, which makes them deviate from their core values. Staying consistent to your values is hard and can make business decisions very difficult. That said, taking the road less traveled is always the right decision if it is in parallel with your beliefs.
X Factor: “Follow Your Folly”
This is New Belgium’s tagline and cornerstone of their culture. “Follow your Folly” essentially means follow your dreams and work hard to ensure they come true. Their employees live and breath this motto every day. Watch this video below for their “Follow Your Folly” toast.
So, what have we learned?
Engaged employee owners + Fiscal Transparency + Core Values + X-Factor = SUCCESSFUL CULTURE.
Business lesson over. Now, drink up!
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Review of New Belgium’s Beer and Brewery Tour – COMING SOON!