By Sam Holloway, Ph.D.
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Famous strategy professor, Dr. Robert Grant begins his book, “Contemporary Strategy Analysis” with a simple statement: Strategy is about winning. I like to add to his simple statement the following corollary: You get to decide what winning means.
Don’t let Megabrew – the moniker for the soon to be joined AB InBev and SABMiller – define for you what winning means. Those companies are run by bankers, not brewers. Those companies blindly pursue profits and would rather cut employees, use cheaper ingredients and shave costs than make investments in peoples’ happiness. Is that how you define winning? Megabrew wants you to think that way, and with their size and increasing ownership of distribution, it would be easy for us to throw up our hands and succumb to their mindset. That’s the lazy response to an important problem. The lazy business mindset is Megabrew’s candy and craft beer’s kryptonite.
Crafting a healthy business is so much more about your mindset than it is a specific lesson or strategic tactic that I could write about here. If you can’t figure out how to change your mindset, that’s normal. It’s scary to make changes, especially if you are doing well currently. But that’s what Megabrew wants you to do – enjoy the good times and don’t plan for when things get hard.
When I teach strategy, I always ask my students to start at the same place: Start with a hard look at how you define winning. Then, consider the assets (human, financial, physical, emotional, spiritual) that you need to acquire or create in order to win. If you don’t have those assets, figure out how to acquire them. Build them, buy them, borrow them, collaborate with another brewery — treat your business as thoughtfully and carefully as you treat your beer and you will find a solution. Buy another brewery owner a beer and compare financial reports and marketing tactics with the same openness and care that you share beer recipes. Decide what winning means to you and pursue it passionately. And remember one important thing – strategy is really hard to get right.
Even though I have a Ph.D. in strategic management and have studied craft breweries for years, I still can’t figure this out alone. In 2010, I started asking brewery owners to describe to me how they envisioned winning and what strategies worked for them. I asked my MBA students and other professors for help. Together with these brewers, students and professors, we rewrote strategy and built craftingastrategy.com (CAS). We reinvented winning for craft breweries according to our values and goals, not Megabrew’s blind pursuit of profits. Slowly, over the past 20 months, we have grown CAS’ core curriculum to include more than 50 white papers, 25 instructional videos, 25 podcasts and several case studies. But it’s the contributions made directly by brewery owners that really stand out: forum comments, blogs and meetups in places like Portland, Seattle, San Jose, Calif., San Diego, and Berlin.
The conversations we are having within CAS are helping us develop the right conversation to sustain craft beer’s renaissance. Each CAS member brings a different perspective to what it means to win and it’s this ongoing debate that is truly inspiring. We partner with industry groups like B.I.N.G. and publications like the Oregon Beer Growler to help get the word out. But, in the end, it is up to you to make an investment in your own business mindset. Don’t fall for the kryptonite that you have no power and are helpless to make change. We need to fight the lazy business mindset and continuously reinvent winning. Together, we can.
Sam Holloway, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the University of Portland and President of craftingastrategy.com.