Chad Melis is an Oskar Blues Brewery “marketing guy”. He doesn’t hesitate to tell you, “We are not too keen on the whole super stuffy titles.”
This is not a huge surprise.
A few months back, while spending the day in Longmont, Colorado (something I highly recommend), I came across Oskar Blues Brewery Anti-Corporate Headquarters.
Anti-Corporate Headquarters?!? I had to find out what that was all about.
Here is a bit of what Chad had to say:
Ok, anti-corporate , can you explain what that means?
There is a lot to it. Part of it is about, as we continue to grow, not losing the vision of who we are, what every single individual brings to the table and how every person makes up the culture of this company.
As you grow there are challenges with that. Continuing to know everyone on a first name basis, knowing what their family is up to, staying engaged and not just clocking in and out. Everyone here has to have everyone’s back. We want to continue to grow and progress. How we grew from one person to many is by having everyone engaged and moving the ball, and if someone sees something that is not right, trying to find a way to make it better and not just saying, “It is not my responsibility.”
Part of the reason we have been able to find success is because we are quick and nimble to respond to opportunities. Big corporate environments do not allow you to make entrepreneurial judgments and take advantages of opportunities that present themselves.
There is a true entrepreneurial spirit that Dale instills in every person that is a part of this process and part of this company. That entrepreneurial spirit is the key to not letting it become a corporate environment that misses opportunities because of the layers and the size. Dale really inspires everyone to have an entrepreneurial mind and to be hands on, to take the responsibility and act as if it is yours.
Could you give me an example of something you have done that you would not have necessarily done if you were in a corporate environment?
I could give you a million of them – everything that happens here.
One example is there is a guy in our finance department who is a Nascar fan, a big racing fan. He goes out to Colorado National Speedway and watches the races. He saw a lot of people drinking beer, but no one was drinking craft beer, and he said he would love to do something about that. On his own, he started making relationships with people out at the track.
We ended up sponsoring a car, a team. We now have a relationship with the track itself. We serve our beer there. We do sampling. We have a tent. We have an Oskar Blues night at the track. We wrapped a two seater, kind of, pace car they have.
All of the event, sales and marketing execution were handled by someone in our finance department because it was something he was passionate about.
It seems companies sometimes start off with an anti-corporate philosophy and with time they go closer and closer to a corporate atmosphere. How do you think it is that Oskar Blues has resisted this?
Dale has an entrepreneurial mind. He is an extremely engaged individual. Everybody who sticks around here has a get it done, hands on attitude. If you enable people to see opportunity, kick ass and get things done, the people who stay are the people who really truly embrace that idea. The people who come here and want to clock in and clock out, they may not necessarily get fired, but the culture and the speed with which we do things will spit them out. The culture is driven by Dale but has spread infectiously throughout the company. The individuals who are here and have stayed have that spirit, that drive. They are getter-doners.
I am assuming there are some corporate philosophies you have had to surrender to perhaps from a HR or finance perspective. Is that a correct assumption?
I think we have become a little more organized and we have had to put some processes in place. Honestly, we do not have a HR person. Each department head stays in engaged with their people and the laws that go along with that responsibility. We stay in touch with the employees and make sure everyone is in a good place. It is by design.
We have had some hires that their value is to come in and bring structure. Some of the processes and structures stay, but this culture is about taking advantage of opportunities, following your passions and doing what you love, and this tends to override the advantages of some of the structure. Certainly there is organization and processes and structure that are helpful when you have this many people communicating and working together.
You don’t have a HR department?
How do you communicate with employees – albeit when they are just hired or every day or quarter? Does Oskar Blues have any creative ways to do that?
The best way for everyone to communicate is to stay engaged with your co-workers. Get out from behind the desk and take a walk through the brewery. Stop in the tap room after work and have a beer with the people from finance. Every Friday we do family style lunch at the brewery. Go work out and you work out next to a brewer, someone in finance or marketing. There is live music at the restaurant on Friday nights.
There is a lot of quality communication that happens through organic events and things that, again, people are passionate about.
Of course, there is email and all of those types of things as well but bridging that gap on a personal level is a key ingredient. Letting those people you work with you know that you care about them. If somebody in the brewery thinks that Dale doesn’t care about them, how often is he going to raise his hand when he thinks something is messed up? He is not going to. He is going to clock in and clock out, but if you know the people around you care about you – then you are going to talk about how to do things better.
How do you feel this philosophy improves or affects your bottom line?
We have continuously added to employee benefits and we have a profit sharing program. Everybody has an entrepreneurial spirit and works hard. We also have developed an onsite gym here and we have a personal trainer in, four or five days a week. It seems like it is all the time. You can go over there and work out whenever you want. There are guided classes a handful of times a week. There is massage multiple days a week. It helps improve the quality of life and the quality of the work environment. It is all really tied together.
Do you believe this anti-corporate philosophy improves your revenue?
The philosophy allows us to be very effective and efficient with the number of employees we have. We do not have unnecessary layers of management. Every individual here is enabled and has accountability and responsibility and is very hands on in taking advantage of that. We run a lean ship because of the quality of people that stick around here and their ability to take their job as their own and not just clock in and out. I think that helps our profitability. From a revenue standpoint, I think we have had a lot of success by being small and nimble and taking advantage of opportunities.
Do you feel Oskar Blues employees are naturally brand ambassadors?
Yes. We had a guy from finance who has an Oskar Blues driver suit on a Nascar car driver and an Oskar Blues logo on a Nascar. That is pure marketing. He is an ambassador from finance.
Oskar Blues started by a handful of people filling up the van with beer in cans – which were a joke at the time – and going out to places and things they were passionate about. Going to mountain bike races and sitting in the dirt and handing people a beer and telling them that beer in the can is better for the beer, better for the environment and better for the beer drinker because it keeps it fresher. They crack the beer can open expecting a cheap beer and are like “Holy Shit! This is a great beer in a can!” And that is on the side of the trail at a bike race or at a kayak festival or a music festival.
Someone from this company spent their weekend with a van full of beer because they love it and wanted to take that beer there, sit down, share it with people and take in that experience. That is where this company came from and it remains that way every day.
Did you ever work for a more corporate environment?
I worked in a cubicle and wore a tie.
How does working at Oskar Blues feel different? How are you different?
I think I am a better person. The clock in, clock out mentality makes people disengage. I think I am more engaged with my relationships outside of work. I am certainly more engaged with my job. I am more satisfied. I work more.
Dale has to grab me and take me out for a bike ride, and this is something we are learning as we grow. That we can’t let our employees burn out. Everybody is very passionate, committed and hands on. Sometimes you have to load them in the bus and take them bowling and buy them a beer. Just “screw Thursday. We are going bowling.”
Our biggest issue is keeping people healthy. That is why we have this onsite gym to make that happen. We started a bike company. A little side project to keep people doing something fresh, something new, something they love and to make sure we keep it fun.
We have a farm and the spent grain from the brewery goes it. We raise Black Angus cattle. This all turns into inflows into our restaurants. The farm is a place you can take you family and go fishing. We can have a kickball game there. We can invite Left Hand Brewery there and screw around.
I think these things are key ingredients in making sure everybody stays fresh, engaged and has a good time. We want to keep that concept of the entrepreneurial spirit, vision and hands on mentality. When the brewery keeps getting big how do you hold on to that? You create these little projects that people can latch onto and help foster and grow and see what it takes – the blood sweat and tears – to make it happen. It keeps it fun.
More about Oskar Blues here.
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