Singing their Praises
It would be called nepotism if these parents hired their children over more qualified candidates or promoted them ahead of more deserving employees. However, one constant among these family-run breweries is that, if you’re the boss’s kid, you have to work twice as hard.
Geary relishes spending more time with his daughter than most fathers get, and refers to her as “essentially the COO. She is an amazing performer. She is smart and organized, tough, fearless, and she seems to be able to do it in her sleep. And no, I don’t say that as her father.”
Jack Joyce is now Rogue’s “Chief Wisdom Officer.” He says, “Those of us who started (craft breweries) learned one thing at a time. So what is easy for us is really difficult for somebody coming from the outside. They think they can save craft brewers by doing things like the big guys do. And that’s just not right.” So while it’s true he brought in his son from the corporate world, which could’ve been frowned upon by Rogue’s long-term employees, Jack adds that, “the old timers, and we’ve got a lot of employees from when Brett was cleaning kegs or waiting tables or driving the truck, knew him… He’d succeeded somewhere else. He learned how to sell.”
It is important to keep in mind that when these entrepreneurs founded their respective breweries, they weren’t thinking about creating a legacy for their kids—if they had any at the time—to inherit. They were too busy trying to make their dreams viable entities.
“The plan was not to go broke,” explains Joyce. “And if you don’t go broke a number of years in a row, then you have something.”
Grossman recently found the original, 40-page business plan he wrote. He calls it “hilarious,” but evidently he knew what he was doing. At the point where he needed to make a decision about the future—“Do I sell the company? Do I have some other direction I’m going to take?”—Sierra Grossman said, “You can’t do that. It’s a family business. You gotta keep it.” He credits her drive for deciding to keep it in the family and jokes that she’s learning to regret it.
“If my kids become interested, we’ll talk,” says Larry Bell. “But I want them to find their passion in life.” Every brewery owner/parent echoes that sentiment. Small business owners everywhere know that if they push their offspring into the business, the kids might resent them and it may just push them away altogether.
Fritz Maytag knows that feeling well.
Far from a magical little brewery, the Maytag name is forever associated with washing machines. “When I was a little boy, I was told that I should plan to do something, anything, but I certainly shouldn’t expect to be involved in the Maytag appliance company. It was a publicly owned company that the family owned a fair amount of. I’m extremely grateful that nobody ever pressured me into feeling as though I had a heritage that I had to accept.”
It’s Their Decision
Of the kids who work in these family businesses, some put more emphasis on “family,” others on “business.” Obviously, the two concepts are impossible to isolate completely. The Joyces, though father-and-son and friends as well, view each other as business partners.
Geary-Lucas had a learning curve. She says, “We get along great now and have learned to communicate with each other as coworkers as opposed to family members. We had some hurdles at the beginning. We don’t mince words now.”
Still, she adds, “Sometimes personal stuff gets involved. In uncomfortable situations, I have to talk to the president, not to my dad.”
Conversely, Sierra and Brian Grossman could no more detach themselves from work than they could from their family. “We don’t punch out,” insists Sierra Grossman. “There is no separation between family and work. There is no non-shop talk. On the weekends we talk about work. After dinnertime we’ll talk about work. It’s usually my mom and my sister saying, ‘OK you guys, stop.’” Even when they leave Chico on family camping or river rafting trips, thoughts of work follow them. Ken Grossman makes jokes about them berating him, but it’s clear he cherishes their involvement and their unceasing dedication to fourth child. The Grossmans are a nuclear beer family.
For Daemon Jeffries, working for his folks amounts to a paycheck. And cleaning out grain bins when it’s cold out in the Michigan winter doesn’t make the 19-year-old think he’ll be working at the brewery forever. He has dreams of making a living in freestyle motocross.
Considering Ron Jeffries is living his own dream, of his son’s ambitions, he says: “Go for it.” (Laurie Jeffries naturally has a safer path in mind for her only child.) The other brewery owners interviewed have one or more progeny working for them, yet they also have one or more who do not. Some are still in school, some pursue other interests, some raise families of their own. Matthew Geary moved from Portland, ME, to San Francisco, CA. Though he loves his family’s brewery, he says that he romanticizes it too much. He remembers the six-pack gluing-parties when he was not yet a teenager. All his school science projects involved beer. Maybe, someday…
Sometimes, it doesn’t pan out.
Loren Allen returned to Anderson Valley Brewing for five years, but left in 2000. “If I’d had my druthers, yeah,” Ken Allen says, “it would’ve been a family business and stayed that way. It just didn’t work out that way.” He says that he “kind of” announced that the brewery is for sale should the right deal come along. “I’m going to be 70 and it’s getting to where I don’t like the stress anymore.”
Retirement is a tricky subject. Maytag is the doyen of the bunch, both in terms of his age, 71, and his command of the wheel, for 44 years. Jeffries is the young whippersnapper, turning 42 this year while his brewery turns five. They all ponder the matter, but only half-kiddingly state they’ll never leave. David Geary resolves, “As soon as they find the body, that’s when I have officially retired.”
In Fort Collins, Jeff Lebesch founded New Belgium as the brewmaster but is already retired. The employees collectively own 32 percent. Running the company energizes Kim Jordan, but she encourages her peers to think about the future. “If Zak were to say, ‘I want to take this seriously,’ I’d want him to get more education. He’s been to Siebel through their diploma program. I think that’s good fundamental knowledge, but not the same thing as years under your belt and business acumen.”
No one admits to concerning themselves with the future of the breweries far beyond 20 years. As far as Jack Joyce is concerned, “I don’t care if (Rogue’s) in the Joyce family. I do care that it stays!”
Still, Grossman allows, “I go to Europe enough to see there are breweries that have been doing it for 100 years and those kinds of legacies do happen. In the U.S., too, for that matter.”
Craft Beer: The Next Generation
Enter CBG2. This club, so to speak, formed when Brett Joyce and Sierra Grossman met at Great American Beer Festival. CBG2, for Craft Brewers Generation Two, is hardly an official group—they don’t even have a Facebook page. They love discovering new brethren. Laura Bell and Daemon Jeffries, despite the lack of official decoder rings, should introduce themselves at the next GABF or beerfest.
“It sure is fun sitting around and hearing stories,” Joyce says. “I’m not the only one to have certain problems, challenges. We found that regardless of the size of our breweries, the issues are the same.” Studies show that the attrition rate for all family businesses is around 30 percent. If 100 parents start a brewery today, only a third will pass down to their kids. Perhaps 10 would successfully operate under the third generation.
“Our parents got here by being very astute. They had logical plans,” Brett Joyce summarizes. Addressing the opportunity to carry on family businesses built by their hard-working, smart parents, he asserts, “provided we don’t (mess) it up. That’s the only caveat.”
“I like family businesses,” muses Maytag. “I think businesses that are owned by one family often have a little more character and are more willing to take chances or do interesting things. I can’t help but think they are a benefit to our country.”
So how about grandkids? Stoudt has six grandchildren ranging from five months to 15 years and the latter works as a cashier in Ed Stoudt’s Black Angus. Joyce says that when his two grandkids reach 15, they can follow in their father’s footsteps by washing dishes. One of Grossman’s granddaughter’s first words was “brewery.”
It sounds like a few breweries will be in good, though currently tiny, hands.