Wednesdays have always been an important day for us at Port Brewing. When I launched this venture (with my three other partners) back in 2005, we met every Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m. to recap the previous week’s operations and, more importantly, agree on the long-term goals necessary to grow a brewery business. In the beginning, Wednesdays always held so much promise.
This was the one day each week where I was able to sit down with my partners on-site at the brewery. All of them operated their own successful businesses, which meant they did not have daily duties here. So getting together each week was the best way we could communicate.
For me, Wednesdays were hectic and reassuring in many ways. The hectic part came in needing to prepare data for the meeting. But during these meetings, I also received financial data from one of my partners who acted as CFO for Port Brewing Co. This summarizing data affirmed that the decisions we agreed upon were providing the company with solid returns.
I always looked forward to Wednesdays for this reason. They were incredibly important to our company’s financial health, and the shared vision we fostered was paramount to our initial success. For the most part, our Wednesdays were about the four of us as partners working toward a common goal—operating a world-class brewery.
Of course, we didn’t always agree 100 percent on how things should go. That’s what having partners means. Still, Wednesdays were the most important tool we as owners shared in growing the brewery operations. But like other great things I have loved, Wednesdays came to an end.
Curiously, it was Wednesday on Dec. 18, 2013, when our partner and CFO was arrested. While the details are blurry, one moment framed the entire day. Just after lunch, I met with my other partners and our lawyer. It was then we signed a document removing one of our founding partners as acting CFO.
Thus, that day in December became the suckiest Wednesday ever for the company. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. I lost a key component of our strategic business team and instantly I became the one person even more responsible for the financial success of the company.
From the moment we first opened our doors, I have acted as the managing member for our LLC. This has meant that since 2005 my role in the company has been co-founder and chief operating owner. During those first eight years, I deferred many of the tax-based financial duties to our chief financial officer. He provided our company with a prescient growth strategy, thereby conferring on me the freedom to focus my energy on other projects.
Everything changed when we signed that document. On that day, his financial duties shifted to my world. With one mighty signature, I became de facto the chief navigator of our financial waters as well.
For most of 2014, I struggled with this additional pressure of managing the finances. I didn’t love being on the hook for “all of it.” Most days, I wanted to bury my head in a bag of hops and inhale the familiar smells of things I knew and loved. But the reality is I signed up for any and “all” of these very things the day we started doing business. And more importantly, as the bridge between ownership and the day-to-day operational managers of our brewing company, I didn’t get to run away.
Because on that Wednesday I severed an eight-year relationship with the one person we brought into our ownership group to be a sounding board for ideas, growth trajectory and the fiscal direction for the company. Sadly, I know this affected my daily ability to focus on the business at hand, and we took a far more conservative path to market in 2014 over most other years since we opened our doors.
Losing that member of our team has meant that for the past 14 months, I haven’t truly been able to plot the course I have wanted to for our brewery. Thankfully, we employ some great people, and they have done the lion’s share of keeping us moving in a positive direction.
If, like me, you view my job as being the acting captain for the S.S. Port Brewing Co., you come to understand that a captain needs a plan. Most importantly, in order for the ship to set sail, the captain better be able to communicate it with great clarity. It also strikes me that the best captains always have a concise, executable plan. That is why they earned the title “captain” in the first place.
Imagine if you will how frustrating it would be if the ship’s leader always turned to the first mate and said, “It’s a great day to go sailing. … Let’s point the ship out of the harbor and see where it leads us. No, I don’t have a heading for you. Let’s just do what we did yesterday and see where it takes us!” Doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. But that’s pretty close to how I feel my 2014 went. I’m lucky my entire staff didn’t mutiny on me, though I wouldn’t have blamed them had they done so.
We’re not alone in this journey. Plenty of businesses have sailed this vast ocean of financial uncertainties and navigated their way through the straits of vagueness without damage. Today, I am a far better leader having survived the crash course in brewery financials.
Does this mean I want the title of CFO? Far from it! This year, I look forward to bringing another talented, financially minded individual into our brewery. Getting that stability back in our day-to-day operations will feel incredible.
Of course, now that I am more versed in the deeper financial operations of our company, I look forward to using this newly acquired wealth of knowledge to position the brewery for bigger and better things. Running this business for the last 18 months without a CFO sitting next to me in meetings, I have gained an appreciation for his role. So far, 2015 has started out incredibly well. Maybe, just maybe, this is the year we go back to weekly Wednesday meetings and the sting of Dec. 18, 2013, will be lessened.
Tomme Arthur is director of brewing operations at The Lost Abbey Brewing Co. in San Marcos, California.
Thanks for taking a moment to share some valuable business info with us Tomme. I am currently, as is everyone else in the nation it seems, working on getting our brewery open. It seems to me that the business side of things is often overlooked in breweries, especially by those who start them out of a homebrewing passion, as I am. In the end, I suppose it is a business just like any other, though it is often difficult for me to ensure I am focusing upon that fact. As you say, “…the reality is I signed up for any and ‘all’ of these very things the day we started doing business.” This is quite a meaningful statement, and one I intend on focusing on over these next few months as we make the final preparations to open our doors. Again, thank you for your insight, and for all you’ve done for the brewing industry. Cheers!