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110: Beer, Sanitizer & COVID-19

Recently Harpoon Brewery worked with other New England craft brewers and distillers to convert beer into hand sanitizer. Bret Keisling celebrates both Harpoon Brewery and its COVID-19 efforts. There's also an archive excerpt of Harpoon Brewery’s Aaron Moberger discussing the importance of employee ownership at Harpoon.


Episode 110 Transcript

Bitsy McCann: 00:03 Welcome to The EO Podcast, where we amplify and celebrate all forms of employee ownership.

Bret Keisling: 00:13 Hello, my friends. Thank you for listening. My name is Bret Keisling and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. I hope as you're listening to this podcast, you and your family are staying safe and doing well during the pandemic crisis. By way of reference for those who will listen to this episode sometime in the future as we're releasing this on May 5th, 2020 the country approaches 70,000 lost souls and meanwhile states are beginning to ease restrictions that have kept us staying at home for the last few months.

Bret Keisling: 00:53 Although much of the business world remains shuttered, many companies have been pivoting production towards helping to fight coronavirus. One such company I want to tell you about are the great employee owners at Harpoon Brewery. You may know them from Harpoon IPA and its other brands that are sold in 32 States. If you're a beer drinker, chances are you've tried it, and you've probably liked it. Harpoon Brewery was formed in 1986 and in 2014 it became a 100% ESOP when it determined that was the best way for it to remain an independent craft brewery. What caught my attention was that recently Harpoon Brewery along with Deacon Giles Distillery in New England, worked together to convert beer into hand sanitizer that was then donated to the Boston Resiliency Fund.

Bret Keisling: 01:43 Harpoon worked with other New England craft brewers to coordinate efforts to donate supplies so that they could make sanitizer in other communities as well. Like many companies, Harpoon Brewery's business has undoubtedly faced significant disruption as a result of restaurants pretty much closing nationwide. Fortunately, there are still outlets to buy beer and many people are taking advantage of them, so I trust that Harpoon Brewery will be able to weather the storm, but I love the fact that they've taken at least some of their product and turned it into something that can be donated in their communities as opposed to being sold. I'm glad they're in a position to do that. I think it speaks very well of them as employee owners. If you get a chance to visit Harpoon Brewery's website, it's pretty cool to see all the different types of beer they brew and I'm always a fan when an ESOP is prominently featured on an employee owned company's website.

Bret Keisling: 02:38 Harpoon Brewery has many, many great employee owners, but if you've been to an ESOP Association national conference or New England chapter event, there's a good likelihood that you've met one of their employee owners, Aaron Moberger, who is an officer and leader in the New England Chapter. He's also active in NCEO as well. Aaron's a great guy and beyond his work at Harpoon he's become a passionate advocate for employee ownership in his own right. Aaron sat down with us for a conversation in October, 2018 and I'm going to share an excerpt with you. You can find the entire conversation with Aaron in Episode 49 which is available on our website at and you can find our entire archive of podcast and mini-cast episodes there as well. In this excerpt, you'll hear a lot of background noise as we recorded this live at a New England Chapter conference. On the one hand, I know the background noise can be a bit distracting and I apologize for that, but I have to admit with The ESOP Association and NCEO having all of their meetings virtually, the background noise actually made me a little nostalgic and reinforced my feeling that I can't wait until ESOP world and the employee ownership community can meet again in person.

Employee Owner Aaron Moberger

Bret Keisling: 03:53 Here's Aaron Moberger discussing the importance of employee ownership at Harpoon Brewery.

Bret Keisling: 03:59 So talk a little bit -- earlier in this recording, you had referenced the one or two things were employee initiatives, which I assume is tied to it being employee owned.

Aaron Moberger: 04:09 Yes.

Bret Keisling: 04:10 So talk a little bit about the effects of being an ESOP on Harpoon. How's it changed your company?

Aaron Moberger: 04:16 Yeah. We had a really good culture to begin with, so it's -- it wasn't like flicking a switch or something like that, where all of a sudden we're employee owned and we've got more of like an ownership spirit. It's an ownership spirit before that. But of course you need the, you need the ESOP component as well.

Bret Keisling: 04:35 Right.

Aaron Moberger: 04:36 So I would, I guess, it just sort of augmented a lot of the good things that were there already. People care more, people will figure out how to use our continuous improvement program. You know, or we've really, we had initiatives before that we formalized the program, track it. I think the results are very tangible with that, you know, just talking locally in our cellaring department in Boston we've increased our efficiency by 50%.

Bret Keisling: 05:07 50%?

Aaron Moberger: 05:08 50%.

Bret Keisling: 05:08 Wow. Very impressive.

Aaron Moberger: 05:10 Yeah. Honest to God. Yeah. Thank you. It's all people's ideas. That's the coolest thing! We were doing -- before we were an ESOP company -- we struggled to put six batches through our finishing system, so the centrifuge and a lot of times the filter in a day, and we do eight, nine or ten now. We did eight batches of beer through a filter head twice and it was a challenge, before that, and we just did 12, we did 11 a couple of times in our sleep really. It's, we could go probably the whole week on one filter head now.

Bret Keisling: 05:43 Wow.

Aaron Moberger: 05:44 And that wasn't for many new pieces of equipment. That was from a cellar operators figuring out better ways, grassroots better ways to do things.

Bret Keisling: 05:53 Which is what we like to see in employee owned companies -- we like to see it in any company -- but obviously our focus is on ESOPs, where the employees understand with some skin in the game they benefit from the results. So finding a way to bring down expenses or innovate your processes is very much a natural component of being an ESOP.

Aaron Moberger: 06:13 Yeah, it's a natural component. It's something that people, I would say people have a natural drive to do. I think the constructive part of it is having a system that helps to people to use that and the best way possible. You know, if people do have these ideas and certainly they know, you know, we can, we can make a very safe assumption that people who are doing those jobs every day know how to make them better. They don't have an outlet for that. It can be frustrating, you know? And it's, it's far, as far as I know, there's no perfect system. So, you know, we've had to work hard to get to the point where we see those types of results and it's still not perfect. We've come up over the past several years, just the ones that we've tracked, 200 ideas and 60 are completed. So we're at, we're at a 30% which I have no idea what world class is in terms of idea, systems, but 30% seems to leave an awful lot of room for improvement.

Bret Keisling: 07:07 Right, right.

Aaron Moberger: 07:08 But obviously there's still tangible results in people take a huge amount of pride, you know, our folks take a huge amount of pride in what they've done and it really helps me get... So, when the market's shifted and you have 7,000 breweries for the first time from six, five, you know, for a couple of years ago. And you have to continually innovate to keep people interested and get, you know, really good faith in consumers to stay relevant and all that kind of stuff. If we hadn't made a lot of those improvements, which we're doing for the sake of doing them and you know, making our jobs better. Adding shared value, now of course, as a result of those things, it would have been much more difficult to keep up with the adjustments that have had to make since then. You know? So if we, if we couldn't put eight batches through, you know, in a day and all of a sudden we had to make all these other changes, you know, maybe we would, at that point we would have been putting two quads of IPA through and it was sort of a standard thing and now we might be doing a quad of IPA and before other batches. So there's transition time between those things that we would have had to absorb it if we weren't out ahead of it, it would have caused problems.

Bret Keisling: 08:16 And ultimately, and it's just human nature. In traditional companies that aren't employee owned, the end of the work shift comes, you're not necessarily motivated to think about it, care. You know, you take your check, we assume, you know, put in honest service for the check. But there was that extra component of wanting to go further.

Aaron Moberger: 08:35 Yeah, absolutely. And that's, and that's a great point about continuous improvement, is that people need some time away from their normal work to be able to come up with and crawl through on these things. So whether that's after hours or whether you do enough of them, that people can find chunks of time during the day around their normal work to be able to do it. It's a necessity, you know.

Bret Keisling: 08:55 Sure.

Bret Keisling: 08:59 With that, we will bring this episode to a close. As I mentioned earlier, you can find the entire conversation with Aaron Moberger and he talks a lot about the technical aspects of making beer. And if you're a beer fan, really cool episode, if you're a fan of employee ownership no doubt, there's a lot of information there as well. So you can find it in Episode 49 at our podcast. Thank you so much for spending some time with me today. I hope you'll join us Friday for the ESOP Mini-cast, and as we're all going through the pandemic together, I hope you stay safe. You're not alone. We will get through this. I'm Bret Keisling. Have a good day.

Bitsy McCann: 09:41 We'd love to hear from you! To contact us, find us on Facebook at KEISOP, LLC and on Twitter @ESOPPodcast. To reach Bret, with one "T", email, on LinkedIn at Bret Keisling, and most actively on Twitter at @EO_Bret. Again, that's one "T". This podcast has been produced by The KEISOP Group, technical assistance provided by Third Circle, Inc. and BitsyPlus Design. Original music composed by Max Keisling, archival podcast material edited and produced by Brian Keisling.

Standard Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and don't represent those of my own firms or the organizations to which I belong. Nothing in the podcast should be construed as guidance or advice of any kind in any field and the fact that I mentioned an organizational website or an advocate or a company on a podcast does not reflect an endorsement, but if you've heard your name or your group's name mentioned on this podcast, I'd love to have you come on and talk about it yourself.


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