breweries opinion

Are family breweries really such a great idea?

marcaurel.jpgThere’s been lots of talk in the UK press this week about inheritance, in the wake of Nigella Lawson’s decision not to leave her wealth to her kids.

In their coverage of the story, the BBC came up with a piece of research by Economist Nick Bloom which suggests that businesses where the CEO is the oldest son of the founder aren’t likely to be the best:

We looked at 5,000 companies and we found that around a third of medium-sized manufacturing firms were family owned. In about half of them the eldest son was the CEO. They are very badly managed.

There is a perception in the world of beer that family run breweries are good; breweries run by accountants and marketing people are bad.

Although there are some breweries where the heirs do seem to have a real passion for brewing, what happens if the son just isn’t interested in beer or brewing, or is rubbish at running a business? I was at university with the scion of a great British brewing family. He was the thick, boorish product of a boarding school; prone to shouting homophobic abuse at people for drinking orange juice, reading books, not vomiting enough and so on; and didn’t show very much interest in ale at all, preferring alcopops and pound-a-pint lager, from what I recall. He will almost certainly end up running the family business one day. I shudder to think.

People should learn from the Five Good Emperors of Rome. They chose their heirs from outside the family and trained them from youth. When Marcus Aurelius broke this unwritten rule and handed control over to his son Commodus, the Roman Empire began its long collapse and 2000 years later, we were forced to endure Ridley Scott’s abysmal Gladiator.

9 replies on “Are family breweries really such a great idea?”

Well-played, sir! I completely agree. We at Monday Night Brewery are actually 2 marketers and one finance guy. So go figure. If I continue to follow that logic… that means… we’re emperors. Nice.

Yep, out in meatspace I’ve dealt with two companies being “developed” by the son or sons of the founders and both are utterly incapable of doing the thing that they are paid to do.

Choose an heir you can sack, is the lesson.

It seems romantic to buy into the whole touchy-feely family-run thing. In fact, I have dreams of handing down my future brewery to my current son. I just hope that there are examples out there where it worked out. Maybe if I train my son to be an accountant and a marketer, then I’ll have the best of both worlds, yet at the same time the worst of both worlds.

“Family-run by accountants and marketing people” just doesn’t sound as romantic…

Here in the U.S., two of Ken Grossman’s children are now involved in the business at Sierra Nevada – including his daughter, Sierra ;>)

I find that reassuring if it means that his vision for what the business should be is guaranteed to survive for another generation.

Go on , which brewers son was it?

I work for a family firm, it has its ups and downs but one thing is for sure the most current CEO has pushed the company the furtherest.

I certainly disagree with those who dont leave anything to their family, (here such a move would be contestible in court) however it does seem that what some of these mega wealthy people are saying is that they arnt leaving everything to their children, what they are leaving them may well still be considerable.

I think like most things, it depends, In the case of breweries, it depends a lot on how the family itself see things. Some a very united; probably most that are left. Some less so and less capable. They’ve sold out.

In Greater Manchester we have Lees, Hydes, Robinsons and Holts. All are doing very well under family control. Some like Hydes and Holts have outsiders on the board, Lees and Robinsons do not, but in these cases the company IS the family and vice versa.

Let’s get one thing straight… Nigella can do no wrong.

As far as family-run businesses go, it’s nice to have that familiarity and security of the name. It seems more likely that family members would go the extra mile to preserve the quality and integrity of the brand, and this seems to be more of a rarity as time goes on. But, like you mentioned, the company could end up going south if put in the wrong hands, even if it is kept within the family.

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