Aces: When Mavericks Become Leaders

I compare the craft brewing industry to the youngest sibling in a household.

See, the youngest child usually doesn’t spend a lot of time with Thomas the Tank Engine or building blocks. The youngest child is usually mirroring their older siblings, inadvertently skipping over age-appropriate activities in a rush to grow up. In my household I have three children with oldest being 13 and the youngest 6. The baby is clawing through life, not a worry around him as he mirrors his older brother. 

I don’t think I have to tell you this, but the craft brewing industry was forced to grow up. Fast.

Early on, I encountered a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants crowd. Looking back, this makes total sense now.

Behind the front doors of most breweries, founders, with their scrappy teams, were being pulled in a million different directions. Because back when the industry was on a rocket ship, you were doing everything just to hang on. 

You were the mavericks, contributing to the largest industry revival in the last 30 years.  

When Mavericks Become Leaders

Over time, I witnessed mavericks transform into leaders by relinquishing some of their day to day responsibilities. The necessary transformation from individual contributor to leader was happening because the businesses grew, and it’s simply what was required. In fact, craft beer is going through another transformation as I write this. One which founders are being forced to level up their game to remain relevant or better yet, alive.

I find it no coincidence that over that same time period, I’ve experienced the same type of transition here at SBS.

In the early days, I was a maverick too! For the first seven years, while I did have some help, my job description included but was not limited to…

…sales, onboarding, closing the books, preparing and reviewing the tax returns, writing content, traveling to conferences and festivals, therapy for partner disputes, hiring (poorly), firing (eehh), tech support, contracts and invoicing, and janitorial sciences (I really did clean the bathrooms in the early days).

You get the idea… because you’ve lived it too.

While this was not sustainable, I was having a blast, so the workload and schedule didn’t bother me. I think my wife has a different view of those years. Maybe I’ll have her share one day.

But, despite the gunslinger, trial-by-fire approach, I always knew that what I was building was bigger than myself.

A Turning Point

2017 was the year I resolved to find a way to step out of the firefight and into whatever that “bigger” role would be.

2017 was also the year I met Tom Miller.

Initially, I hired Tom in as a contractor to help me build what I then thought was the Holy Grail of SBS’s future: an online training community for brewery owners. Some of you may remember the Brewery Business Blueprint… gosh she was a beauty. I worked so hard to launch that course.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting in the corner of my bedroom, texting Tom about the latest course numbers and then it hit me: “We need to shelve the BBB,” I wrote. Because even with her short-lived success, there was something missing that an online product could never fulfill. 

What I craved the most was the client interaction and more importantly, the deep relationships I had built. And what our breweries needed wasn’t just the information, they needed a partner in execution. They needed a team to support the growth and profit goals we’d set out to address.

So in early 2019, we decided to chart a new course. Tom flew down to Jacksonville. We kicked off EOS. We reworked our service and client offerings, an improved version of which some of you experience today. And as we gained traction with the new approach, I decided to bring Tom in as COO.

From the moment he accepted, we were off to the races. And that meant, first and foremost, building the team. No joke, it brings a tear to my eye to think about the talent we have assembled to date.

The tangible result of all this hard foundational work has been 70% year-over-year growth. Likewise, the intangible result has afforded me the opportunity to shift my focus from what I used to have do, to now what I choose to do… What I consider my superpower: building deep relationships.

Aces In Their Places

A personal goal of mine has always been to do more speaking events for the brewing industry. In 2022, with my renewed focus and the help of the SBS team, I was able to do exactly that: 10 speaking events, including one keynote!

I really live for these moments. Regardless if I am speaking to a group of investors or a full house at CBC, the goal of each opportunity is to build deeper relationships. I hope to leave the listeners with at least one drop of knowledge that they find valuable.

And just as I had my own breakthrough moment in recognizing what I could contribute most to the business, another breakthrough for me has been recognizing the strengths of others.

This mindset shift is the “unlock” for continued SBS growth. The team’s strength is delivering on the technical accounting, tax and benchmarks and the more I get out of their way, the better they get. Tom’s strengths remain in building our systems, the team, and overall culture. The more I let go, the stronger we become. 

So here we are in 2023, where the next phase of this transition has ushered in yet another change for myself and the SBS leadership team. The contribution that Tom has made to SBS has been invaluable, and during our annual business meeting, he presented his vision for what SBS could be. According to that vision, we have just scratched the surface. I wholeheartedly agree.

And so it is my belief in this vision that has led me to hand over the CEO reins to Tom Miller effective January 1, 2023.

So what does this mean for cf? 

Well, it means I get to triple down on what I love to do. Because the biggest impact I can have on our industry is doing more of what I do best: writing, speaking, and building deeper relationships.

I know I talk about leadership in my writings a lot. But this is exactly it folks!

This isn’t just a passing of the torch. It’s yet another transition, in an unending series of transitions that come with building something bigger than yourself. It’s the journey of a maverick turning into a leader.

I encourage you to take a look at where you are in your journey. Maverick? Leader? Somewhere in the messy middle?

There are plenty of mavericks in this industry. A group of partners firefighting their way towards a dream. But although that may have been necessary in the early days, that time has passed. That’s no longer what we need. In order to grow, in order to succeed…

What we need is more leaders.

Next week, it’s Tom’s turn to communicate our vision to you and lay out what is in store for SBS. And I couldn’t be more excited about where we’re headed next.

Talk soon,


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