Interesting, but not surprising, news yesterday from the world of the industry formerly known as “craft beer.”
Employee-owned New Belgium Brewing Company, which owns craft beer brand Fat Tire, is looking for a buyer that could the value the U.S. company at more than $1 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.
(Note, please, that the source says the company is "looking for a buyer." Not that it has a buyer.)
The figure’s not surprising: Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits recently sold for that amount. (Although: crucial difference: Ballast makes both spirits and beer. BIG difference.)
Nor is the fact that NB is looking to sell. It’s a solid, well-run company with a solid distribution mechanism and right now, late 2015, it's a seller's market in the beer industry.
Should the company be sold, the usual blathering may ensue. (Or not. Acquisitions of craft breweries are now so commonplace that we’re almost at the “who cares”? point.)
But it’s worth noting who benefits from the sale (or, I’d argue and have argued, any sale). In this case: the people who built the company.
NB is an ESOP: Financially, it rests on an Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP). It’s 100% employee-owned. (No, the employees don’t, jointly, make all decisions. Management makes the decisions. Every one benefits.)
That’s not surprising. NB’s co-founder and former CEO, Kim Jordan, practices “conscious capitalism.” Her view of how capitalism, and its benefits, should “work” is built into the andrcompany’s infrastructure; its very fiber.
When New Belgium sells, and once the brokers and lawyers who handle the sale are paid off, the remaining profits will be dispersed among the employees. Many ordinary men and women, people just like you and me, will reap enormous, hard-earned, financial reward after years, in some cases, decades, of building the company.
When the company sells, it’s unlikely the buyer will keep this culture intact. It’ll just become another company.
But so what? Jordan accomplished what she set out to do: Create a business whose owners would reap the profits it earns. All of them.
So now imagine this deal at whatever price. (At the moment, $1 billion isn’t unrealistic. A year ago? Probably not. Next year? Perhaps. Right now? Totally doable.)
Now imagine the people who will walk home with the proceeds. People. Families. Not anonymous “shareholders” (who are also, in the end, people, although we tend to forget that). But living, breathing human beings. Moms and dads. Brothers and sisters. Families.
Folks, there’s nothing here about which to bitch. This is capitalism in its most pure and productive form: Build a for-profit enterprise. Earn money for doing so. Spread that money throughout society.
What’s this NOT about? It’s not about “craft beer.” It’s not about “selling out.” It’s not about any one person who drinks New Belgium beer. It’s sure as hell not about the geeks who will now vow never to touch another drop of NB. (Although beer geeks being beer geeks, they probably don't drink NB anyway. Too . . . big. Too . . . normal.)
It’s about the people who built the company earning wealth from their work.
To which I say: Cheers. (As I have said for every. single. sale. thus far.) Cheers to all these smart, talented people who gambled on an idea and reaped the rewards.