Strange brew: Beer and office democracy

A Colorado brewery views perks like free bikes as a core part of the company ethos.

EMAIL  |   PRINT  |   SHARE  |   RSS
google my aol my msn my yahoo! netvibes
Paste this link into your favorite RSS desktop reader
See all RSS FEEDS (close)

Brewer Eric Salazar and his wife Lauren, a Sensory Specialist, in front of oak barrels used to make New Belgium Brewing's wood-aged La Folie beer.
New Belgium Brewing
Headquarters: Fort Collins, Colo.
Employees: 320
2008 Revenue: $93 million
Key Benefits: Free bike; stock in the company
7 great places to work
Free beer, generous vacation leave, and a say in company decisions - see how 7 innovative companies are inspiring workers and boosting the bottom line.

(Fortune Small Business) -- New Belgium Brewing Co. likes to do things differently.

After one year of work, each employee receives an ownership stake in the company and a free custom bicycle. After five years every employee enjoys an all-expenses-paid trip to Belgium -- the country whose centuries-old beer tradition serves as a model for the Fort Collins, Colo., brewery. Oh yeah, and employees get two free six-packs of beer a week.

"There's something wrong if making beer can't be fun," says CEO Kim Jordan, who co-founded the company with her husband, Jeff Lebesch, in 1991 (he retired a decade later).

The perks aren't just for fun, though. Each one is an expression of the company's ethos. The free bikes help the environment. The trips to Belgium commemorate Lebesch's bicycle tour of that country's breweries in 1989 -- the original inspiration for the company, now the third largest craft brewery and the eighth largest overall in the U.S.

"Operating a business in a way that is consistent with your values is particularly pleasing," says Jordan, 50.

Those values include employee ownership. Workers own 33% of New Belgium, which has 320 employees and posted $93 million in revenue last year. A large proportion of the staff participates in strategic planning and budgeting. "People are engaged and committed," Jordan adds.

But that kind of team decision-making is difficult for some. "Managers here need to inform people about decisions before making them," says Jennifer Orgolini, 40, New Belgium's sustainability director. "That's the hardest part of adjusting to the culture."

There are other downsides. Some workers "get sucked into an entitlement mentality," Jordan says, citing a staffer who asked to borrow a company car to go on vacation. (The employee was politely told no.)

"Ownership investment gives the company a sense of cohesion, but giving everyone ownership can undermine the hierarchy," says Ben Dattner, an organizational psychologist and principal of Dattner Consulting in New York City. "It can get chaotic."

The recession has led New Belgium to cut back on some benefits. Annual raises have shrunk from between 7% and 8% to 4%, and limits have been imposed on expensable lunches. And until recently workers were allowed to take a full case of beer home each week. That last cutback was hard to take.

"It was a bit of an adjustment," says Orgolini. "It's hard to change what people have gotten used to."

Talk back: Tell us how your company motivates its staff.  To top of page

To write a note to the editor about this article, click here.

QMy dream is to launch my own business someday. Now that it's time to choose a major, I'm debating if I should major in entrepreneurial studies or major in engineering to acquire a set of skills first. Is majoring in entrepreneurship a good choice? More
Get Answer
- Spate, Orange, Calif.

More Galleries
10 of the most luxurious airline amenity kits When it comes to in-flight pampering, the amenity kits offered by these 10 airlines are the ultimate in luxury More
7 startups that want to improve your mental health From a text therapy platform to apps that push you reminders to breathe, these self-care startups offer help on a daily basis or in times of need. More
5 radical technologies that will change how you get to work From Uber's flying cars to the Hyperloop, these are some of the neatest transportation concepts in the works today. More
Worry about the hackers you don't know 
Crime syndicates and government organizations pose a much greater cyber threat than renegade hacker groups like Anonymous. Play
GE CEO: Bringing jobs back to the U.S. 
Jeff Immelt says the U.S. is a cost competitive market for advanced manufacturing and that GE is bringing jobs back from Mexico. Play
Hamster wheel and wedgie-powered transit 
Red Bull Creation challenges hackers and engineers to invent new modes of transportation. Play

Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.