It almost sounds too good to be true -- being the CEO of a brewery. A dream job, right? If you're Kim Jordan, then it's not a dream. But it's also not as easy as it sounds. More than just brewing beer, it's about balancing a bottom line with living a philosophy that requires fun and a passion for environmental sustainability.
Good beer and good jobs
New Belgium Brewing Company started in 1989 in a Fort Collins, Colo., home. A bike trip across Belgium inspired engineer Jeff Lebesch to try brewing beer. His social worker wife, Kim Jordan, joined in the fun. Now, the company employs 370 people and routinely wins awards. Some accolades come for the company's beer, but many also praise the company as a great place to work. Three years in a row, the company has been featured on Outside magazine's Best Places to Work in America list.
"We do get a lot of applicants and we get some incredible displays of enthusiasm," Jordan says. "A few weeks ago, someone wrote their résumé on a bike and sent in the bike. We've gotten carved pumpkins and lamps and beer bottles."
Jordan does not encourage applying for jobs that are not listed. When the company interviews for jobs, it's not the same experience as throwing on a suit for an average corporate job. Applicants are given scenarios to judge their value systems and see if they fit with the company. "We're looking for a values fit. That's different than 'looking just like us.' It's knowing that we're bringing people into our community who are interested in being intellectually vibrant... who also like to have fun and be connected to a community of people."
Working for the company
New Belgium does not experience much turnover; most of the available jobs these days pop up in the sales department as the company expands the availability of products around the United States.
Employees don't have to wonder about job expectations because they are constantly reminded of 10 core beliefs that guide the company and are artistically portrayed in mosaics around the brewery:
- Remembering that we are incredibly lucky to create something fine that enhances people's lives while surpassing our consumers' expectations.
- Producing world-class beers.
- Promoting beer culture and the responsible enjoyment of beer.
- Kindling social, environmental and cultural change as a business role model.
- Environmental stewardship: Honoring nature at every turn of the business.
- Cultivating potential through learning, high involvement culture, and the pursuit of opportunities.
- Balancing the myriad needs of the company, our coworkers and their families.
- Trusting each other and committing to authentic relationships and communications.
- Continuous, innovative quality and efficiency improvements.
- Having fun.
Many large companies offer a watch or other gift at the five-year mark. At five years, New Belgium Brewing employees are taken on a beer tour of Belgium, much like the company's origins. The company doesn't make you wait so long for recognition, though. After one year with the brewery, employees are awarded custom bikes -- which reflect the brand and one of the beers, called "Fat Tire." The bicycle gesture also encourages reducing one's carbon footprint by biking to work. (Showers are available.) The brewery uses as much natural light as possible and is the largest private consumer of wind power.
Despite the recession, the craft brew industry grew 1.3 percent in 2009 (which saw a 2.2 percent drop in overall U.S. beer sales). Industry estimates figure the company had $100 million in sales in 2009. While financial records are kept private, New Belgium employees are empowered to know what goes into a barrel of beer and how much their department contributes.
Laid back but not lazy
These folks are making beer, which should be fun. The work atmosphere is casual, with no dress code. There are no nepotism rules either -- about 40 couples work at New Belgium. Employees routinely participate in events that might be called "team building" at large corporations. At New Belgium, they just call it "kickball next week." And all employees are considered "co-workers" no matter where they fall in the hierarchy.
New Belgium operates with an entrepreneurial spirit despite its carefully calibrated growth. "I think we are still entrepreneurial. I think it gets harder to do. One of my jobs in this company is to remind people that we want to embrace nimbleness and creative solutions rather than just throw money at an issue," says Jordan. "At the same time, we realized at some point that some amount of structure and systems really frees people up to do the creative work. We try to keep rule-making to a minimum. There are decisions that I make but there are thousands of decisions that I don't make and I trust those people to make them."
"One of the things I hear a lot is, 'this is the first place I've ever worked where I get to be who I am at work,'" says Jordan. "That's fabulous. You spend a lot of time in this endeavor called 'work' -- and if you can't be who you are, that's a problem."