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Business Taught by a Beer Scientist

By Jason Brancato– Traditionally when we think of successful businesses, we think of huge corporations like Apple, Coca-Cola, and the Wal-Mart. Even though we might not know anything about what the company represents, they usually share a common theme. They are deemed successful because we associate the term success with the money they earn. However, we all to quickly forget the Enrons and Volkswagens of the world, who we assumed were also successful but forget that success is also built on ethical business practice. Who better to remind us of these moral business principles than the founder of St. Arnold Brewing Company, Brock Wagner?

Simply put, Brock is the MAN!

Touring St. Arnold brewery on an early Friday morning with other Cameron School of Business students, we entered the building’s front doors with a feeling of excitement and intrigue about how this small company gained such a big presence in Houston. Lingering in the halls, we watched several employees walk by , and they all gave us a friendly greeting, and then our tour guide arrived. He looked… normal. If you saw his face on the local news, you would associate it with at least five people you have met in your lifetime. Wearing blue jeans and a collared shirt, you could tell he took casual Fridays to heart. This familiar faced man, who resembled my uncle and my first boss, was the founder of the St. Arnold Brewing Company. With a personality to match his friendly face, Brock Wagner happily guided us through loud machinery, between holding tanks, around bottling presses, and over barrels of beer. It was by far one of the coolest experiences I have had at the University of St. Thomas. Brock, a neighboring graduate from Rice University fell in love with Houston and shaped important knowledge on how to run a business properly, tips to avoid when you start a company, and redefined the term “success.”

“There is no such thing as too much research”

Brock Wagner did not just brew a batch of beer in his dorm room at Rice and suddenly become a prolific name in Houston. Although the first part of that sentence is true, the second part took time, and was not without a huge investment. Brock had a career in investment banking for six years before his dream of being a brewer became a reality. It can easily be said that the business might have tanked if it was not for his extensive research. He touched on the fact that research does not mean that you look something up on Google for ten minutes and call it a day. Research is pivotal in any business, whether it is about the location of your facility, what companies make up the market share, or how the product is actually made. It is evident that Brock’s research was intensely critical, right down to the names on his holding tanks, which represent the history of beer itself.

“Work isn’t really work when you’re drinking beer”

Brock’s previous years in investment banking led him to see how lucrative and corrupt business can be. Mr. Wagner did very well for himself in the investment banking business, but somehow money could not imprison him in a cubicle every day. He traded his pressed pants for jeans and lived the dream of brewing beer. However, just because work does not seem like work, that does not mean it is not challenging. He worked long hours in the early days of opening the brewery, strategically planning his next move or his next big beer. Brock explains that since work is a place where you spend a good amount of your day, why would you not do something you love. I associate the advice with the college student’s challenge of picking a major. Sometimes we force ourselves to love a particular subject because we expect it to bring a six-figure salary. But as the cliché goes, money cannot buy happiness, but beer sure can (at least for Brock Wagner it does).

“I have to be able to have a beer with you”

One experience students struggle with is the always-intimidating interview. We have all been there, sometimes in a group interview when you truly see how awkward people can be, or how awkward you yourself can be. There are always ways to improve your interview skills. I know that Career Services offers mock interviews, for example, and there are workshops that offer tips for nailing an interview. For Brock Wagner, his golden rule on hiring you is “he has to be able to have a beer with you,” which makes sense in his industry. He went on to clarify what this means to him: in order for him to consider hiring a person, that person must be interesting. After the interview, he wants to sit back in his office chair and say to himself, “hmmm, now here is someone I’d like to get to know better.” Of course, personality is not everything. Brock went on to say that all of his employees must have the credentials he is looking for, but the coolness factor of Rambo is just an additional incentive.

“We do things right here, because it’s the right thing to do”

This sentence is the most important tip that really sold me on St. Arnold Brewing Company as an ethical business, a community within a workplace, and a great weekend beer, of course. St. Arnold is synonymous with the term success because of the extraordinary steps they take to brew and craft their beer. Brock Wagner clearly wants things done right. He showed us the extra steps that he takes to set his beer apart from others. While these steps might not be the cheapest, he refuses to take shortcuts and quality control is an absolute must. While other companies might attack his craft delicacies, he says that he refuses to resort to insults to take down his competitors. And you definitely notice a difference about this workplace environment; it is a community because of the ethical principles in place. Everyone knows everyone else, and it seems like actual fun seeing these guys do their jobs. Brock says that on any given day at the end of the shift, he will see his employees from a variety of departments mingling over some cold suds. It is certainly something he is proud to have developed. His mission statement says it all, “to brew and sell the best beer in Texas, and to create an institution that Houston is proud of.” Brock is serious about both parts of the statement but has become obsessed with the second part. I would say that Houston has taken a good liking to the story that Brock Wagner is telling.

Until next time… CHEERS!

Jason Brancato

BBA candidate – Finance Major – University of St. Thomas

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