This story is part of the Behind the Desk series, where CNBC Make It gets personal with successful business leaders to learn everything from how they got where they are to what gets them out of bed in the morning. to their daily routines
Thirty-eight years ago, Jim Koch set out to change the landscape of American beer brewing.
At the time, he was a 34-year-old Harvard graduate who quit a well-paying job to try to build Sam Adams – a craft beer startup in an industry dominated by huge, mostly foreign conglomerates – from his family’s kitchen in Boston.
Today, Koch is considered a pioneer of the thriving craft beer scene in the United States. He is the founder and chairman of Sam Adams’ parent company, Boston Beer Company, which employs more than 2,500 people and generates more than $2 billion in annual revenue.
The company has far exceeded its original vision of being a small, regional craft brewer with just a handful of employees and about $1.2 million in annual revenue, he says. Yet even now it is prudent to acknowledge success.
“Sam Adams represents less than 1% of the beer industry in the United States,” Koch, 73, told CNBC Make It. “So the reality is that after 38 years of success, we’ve gone from infinitesimal to tiny.”
Koch even says he could have been happier, in the long run, if Sam Adams had stayed small. In his current role, he sometimes takes four flights a week – an exhausting amount of travel, especially at 73.
“It’s a flip side of the coin,” he said. told CNBC Make It last monthsaying that each scenario would come with “different blessings, different curses”.
Here, Koch discusses the process of becoming a role model for the modern American craft brewing industry, how he overcomes his shortcomings as a manager, and the daily morning routine that helps him focus on what’s “important” rather than on what is “urgent”.
The blessing that I have been able to have, thanks to the success of Sam Adams, is this feeling of having accomplished something meaningful and important. Steve Jobs put a ding in the universe. I put a very small concave inverted button.
As small as it is, that’s something.
I helped start the craft beer revolution that changed the face of American brewing. I come from six generations of brewers. American brewing has been completely transformed by the craft beer revolution that Sam Adams helped launch and lead for 38 years. And, to me, that’s just personally really cool.
But the initial business plan did not envision selling significant volume outside of the Boston area. I thought it would be a small local brewery. There were no successful craft brewers in the United States. They were all very local, scratching and getting no traction.
There was no model then, and there had to be one. I was the only sixth generation brewer in the United States. And having that brewing experience and the education to see and run with the opportunity felt almost like fate.
So it was like, ‘I have to take this ride to the end of the line. I have to see where it leads. And it was fun!
I learned very early that I was not a good manager. I agree with that. There are people who are good managers. I am not one of them.
I’m not really good at tracking, or detailing. I’m not that organized. And I don’t really respect the “process”. I’m not trying to be a good manager. I try to make sure I have a good manager as CEO.
You could draw a two-by-two matrix. One axis is: “What value does this activity bring to the company? And #2: “How much can I contribute?” I try to stay in the top right box of things that add a lot of value to the business, where I can make a significant difference.
Luckily, I can find enough at any one time to fully occupy the time I can devote to it. I still work 60 hours a week.
I spend a lot of time out of the office, working either in breweries or in markets. For me, that’s where the action is. This kind of direct contact with retailers, drinkers, distributors and our own team is invaluable in making good fundamental decisions. Essentially, that’s my job — making good business decisions — and I learned that I couldn’t do it sitting in an office.
It is much easier to hire good managers than good leaders. My job is to run the business, and you have to lead from the front.
People ask me, “You’ve been doing this for 38 years. You don’t do it for the money. What wakes you up in the morning?
I am excited when I wake up in the morning. I’m excited on Sunday night, because I know when I wake up, it’s going to be Monday, and I’m going to be able to do cool things. It sounds a little sick, but it’s a great feeling.
Every morning, I write down my three priorities for the day. That means there are three things I’m going to do today, and the day isn’t over until I do them and do them well.
It’s a useful habit because it keeps you focused. Some of them can be quite small, but important. But, like, today there is a very meaningful conversation that I want to have at the end of the day with our supply chain manager. I’ll make sure I leave an hour of thinking time to prepare for an hour and a half conversation.
We tend to let our days fill up with urgency [matters]. It’s a way for me to anchor my day in the important and not in the urgent.