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New Belgium Brewing's Kim Jordan Heads East

While I said it and I believed it could happen, the fact that it is happening is pretty damed exciting.

There's a culture surrounding New Belgium that includes its ties to the bike community, its contribution to independent film and its events such as citywide scavenger hunts and Tour de Fat bike races. As New Belgium expands to other markets, do the other elements come along for the ride?

Jordan: I think other brewers do that more or less successfully. This is also a very competitive business that we're in.

I was just at the Brewery Association board of directors meeting this week and we're seeing 400 new breweries a year, or more than one a day opening. So we'll see more competition and I think we'll have our collective ability to garner more market share, but with that will come more of a need for breweries to tell their story.

We find at New Belgium that branded events are a great way to tell our story, but they're expensive and time-consuming and it takes building up over a few years. But I think that human beings are storytelling creatures, and the story of craft beer and New Belgium's journey through the craft beer landscape is interesting.

For us at New Belgium, we're looking to be business role models. We're committed to the notion that you can make a splash through your practice, but you also have the ability to make ripples. We like that and like the opportunity to cause people in various endeavors to think what they could do that's consistent with their values, good for the planet and collaborative with their co-workers.

One of those ripples is your Employee Stock Ownership Program that gives your workers a stake in the company. Last year, New Belgium went from 41% employee ownership to 100%. How does that affect day-to-day operations and employee relations and how do you to plan to go forward with the ESOP plan in Asheville?

Jordan: We started sharing equity and practicing open-book management in 1995. We also have what we call high-involvement culture, so not only do my coworkers look at the financial statements, but they're also been involved in the strategic planning process for a very long time.

We've held a retreat every year since we've been in business and we've evolved it over the years to have it be the place where we start our strategy thinking, and that starts with the coworkers. That's the solid foundation that led to 100%. What's interesting to me is that, at 41%, we had good practice on it. At 100%, on one hand nothing changed: I'm still the CEO and the management team is still the management team. We are not running in anarchy or management by 470-person committee on every decision.

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