Great Food, Great Beer, Great Leadership (Part 2)

Great Food, Great Beer, Great Leadership – Part 2

or, Great Product + Transparency + Values + Shared Ownership = Great Business!

After a post of great leadership principles from gastronomic AND leadership guru Ari Weinzweig, I’d wager there is no better way to follow up than with a chaser that talks about leadership and beer.

New Belgium Brewing ( began commercial operations in 1991. The journey was started by an electrical engineer and Belgian Beer fanatic, Jeff Lesbesch and his wife, Kim Jordan (now CEO of NBB). The business started in Jeff’s and Kim’s house, and the first beers were sold with labels that depicted watercolors crafted by their neighbor. Today New Belgium is the third largest craft beer producer in the United States, and Fat Tire, their flagship beer, has developed a cult-like following.

In my opinion, though, what is truly noteworthy about the Fort Collins, CO brewery is the true engine that runs it. A two parted equation, based on phenomenal products and boundary-less employee engagement, results in what NBB calls a culture of High Involvement. A well-crafted (sorry, had to do it) document entitled “Follow Your Folly” (NBB’s motto) gives you the closest approach to New Belgium short of packing up and visiting Fort Collins.

In short, in this blog I elicit that the third largest craft brewer in the US was built on Values, Involvement, and Transparency, all tethered together to deliver fantastic products.

New Belgium’s values and beliefs are noted in “Follow Your Folly”. Without going into a detailed review of them, it is impactful to see the main areas which these values address.

  • First and foremost, it’s about making a great product. The journey of creating purpose for a team is tremendously simplified if everyone can believe in the quality of the organization’s offering (be it a product, service, social or spiritual enterprise).
  • Second is enunciating any overarching guiding principles the organization will underpin its efforts with. In the case of NBB, they have elected to kindle social and environmental change by being a role model as a sustainable business. So, you now have a fantastic product and a philosophy for being sustainable.
  • Then they drive the core; their people. The largest number of their values is centered on people. How to develop their potential, balance their personal lives with the needs of the business, and how they want people to act and drive the business.

Product, Principles, People. I cannot imagine a sturdier core than those three intertwined firmly. The resulting purpose statement is one of my favorites:

“To operate a profitable company which makes our love and talent manifest”.

An even deeper dive to the core of their people strategy reveals a true commitment to full employee engagement. Three aspects of this strategy should be ample evidence of how committed the leaders of NBB are to making their employees be a part of the business, and not just being there for a job.

  • Their CEO expresses her vision of employees fully participating in the business. NBB sees love and talent in their core purpose, and they understand that to get the full expression for that love and talent, employees must be completely and utterly involved and committed to the business. So, she enunciates not just that she wants people involved, she paints a clear picture of how the organization will be built and will operate to ensure decisions are collaborative, kindling ownership at all levels:
    • “I imagine a group of people who are so confident in their support from their co-workers and who have been trained so well in making appropriate decisions that decision making is as natural as breathing” – Kim Jordan, CEO NBB.

  • They practice Open Book Management as described and promoted by Jack Stack in his book “The Great Game of Business”. Stack proposes that the best way to engage the players on a team is to clearly show them what winning looks like, teach them the rules, and make them part of the win. So, an open book business should show every employee their financial statements and ALL the information that feeds into them. They should then explain in detail how each person contributes to those numbers, and finally, they should ensure there is a bonus program for every employee linked to the company making the numbers!
  • All is good so far, but what does ownership at New Belgium look like when rubber meets the road, when we look at the bottom line? New Belgium has gone to the ultimate “money where our press release is” move and as of December 2012, became a 100% employee owned organization. Kim Jordan released the 59% shares owned by the founders and now ALL NBB is owned by the employees.
    • I had the pleasure of visiting NBB this summer. After an outstanding tour, several games of Rolle-Bolle, and tasting many of their great products (thank goodness for my wife being my designated driver that day), I was ready to cash out. The credit card receipt comes out, and there is no line for a tip. I inquired about this, and the bar tender told me “we are 100% employee owned, your visit is much more to me than looking for a tip, but if you would like to leave something it will go to our favorite local not-for-profit”. If the beer tasting left me light-headed, her comment left me light-hearted.

So, with a great offering of products at the core, New Belgium is propelling a very successful business through involvement, transparency, and ensuring their actions reflect their values.

There is hope for business yet, I can raise a stein to that!


1 Response

  1. Glad to see your leadership comments:
    Common denominator I see in Zingermann’s and NBB is employee involvement which is fostered by top management involvement, clear expectations and transparency.
    Would love to see your comments and experience on how to implement Ari’s 12 principles and NBB techniques.
    Kudos for your blog!, wish you a lot of success!

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