Thrive Global: One On One With Jim Koch, Founder of Samuel Adams
I spoke to Jim Koch, the founder of Samuel Adams, about his best advice
Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?
Jim: I think people are always surprised to learn how involved I am on a day to day basis. I am lucky in that I get to do what I love every day. I still taste every batch of Boston Lager that leaves our brewery and am involved in every new beer our brewers dream up.
People are surprised when they hear that I travel every year to Germany to hand select the noble hops that go into our beers because I am so obsessed with the quality of the ingredients that go into our beers.
Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?
Jim: I’ve experienced my fair share of setbacks, but I think failures are necessary to finding success. One example was when I first started Sam Adams, distributors didn't want to take on my beer. Boston Lager was different than the beers they were used to – it wasn’t pale yellow but rather was full flavored and had a rich color, t. The rejection forced to me to take on the challenge of bringing it to market on my own, which has become a pillar of my career.
Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?
Jim: Effective leaders delegate and trust the other leaders in the organization to do a great job. At The Boston Beer Company, I spend the majority of my time where I add the most value and that is focusing on our company culture and brewing the best beer possible.
Training is so important, and at The Boston Beer Company we invest a lot of time and money to train our people. Someone once asked me “Jim why do you spend so much money on training for people who may end up leaving.” My response was “But what if we didn’t train them and they stayed?”
Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?
Jim: Do what makes you happy, not what you think will make you money. If you’re doing something that you really love, you may not get rich, but you’ll be happy. I certainly didn’t start Sam Adams to get rich, and I could never have predicted how drinkers would embrace my beer. My original 5-year business plan was to eventually sell $1 million worth of beer, get to having eight employees, and pay myself a salary of $75,000. I expected to be a local – and happy – craft brewer. I never could have imagined my beer would have started the craft beer revolution that we are experiencing today.
Start with a great product, and the rest will fall behind. You have to focus on quality first and foremost because all the clever packaging, branding or marketing in the world won’t overcome an inferior product.
Constantly ask, “How can I do this better?” Because the status quo sucks. The status quo only exists because we haven’t yet figured out a way to be better. There isn’t a day that goes by when I’m not thinking about experimenting or trying to be more open to new ideas both in business and life.
Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?
Jim: When I first decided to start my own brewery, my father gave me the best business advice I have ever received along with our family beer recipe, which drinkers now know as Samuel Adams Boston Lager. He said to focus on the quality of the beer over all else: “Make a good beer, and don’t worry about the marketing. People drink the beer; they don’t drink the marketing. Don’t get distracted. Just worry about the beer.” I promised him I would. My Dad’s advice was, and is, core to the success of Sam Adams, and continues to guide how we brew our beers and operate our brewery. Above all else, focus on the beer and focus on quality.
Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?
Jim: People want to do business with companies that give back and pay it forward and I always recommend doing so in a way where you are real value when looking at their philanthropic initiatives. Business owners and entrepreneurs particularly should ensure not only their own success, but also the success of their industry overall. To support the food and beverage industry, we provide loans and business coaching to small business owners and fellow brewers through our Brewing the American Dream program (including 52 loans to 43 small craft breweries totaling over $2 million). We have shared hops during shortages and even support homebrewers through our LongShot American Homebrew Competition.
Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?
Jim: Brewing beer is my hobby! Seriously, my job is very time consuming so I don’t have a lot of time to pick up new hobbies. I am a 6th generation brewer and started brewing in my kitchen 35 years ago using my great-great grandfather’s recipe for Boston Lager. I’ve been living my passion every day since.
When I’m not brewing (or drinking) beer, I love to be with my family, kayak and spending time outdoors (before I became a brewer I was an Outward Bound instructor).
Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Jim: I’d like to share a beer! I’ve always said, and I still believe that good beer will continue to succeed, and I look forward to continuing to brew the best beer possible using the highest quality ingredients.