Ska Brewing Hires Former Avery Executive as First-Ever COO

Austin Ray

THE GIST
Ska Brewing has hired a former Avery executive as its first ever chief operating officer to oversee day-to-day operations. Having spent 14 years at Avery, most recently as COO, Steve Breezley joins Ska in a bit of a transitional period, as the company’s current leadership roster has shifted its focus to other projects. Breezley, the company says, will be able to guide it through this time by simultaneously preserving its culture and spearheading new growth initiatives.

“We’ve always admired Breeze’s work, and by that I mean that we’ve consumed copious amounts of the beers he’s been responsible for over the years,” said Dave Thibodeau, CEO and president of Ska, in a press statement. “There simply is no better fit for us and the exciting plans we have for the future.”

Thibodeau will remain on board as CEO, but will relinquish his role overseeing daily operations to Breezley and return his focus to marketing and sales.

WHY IT MATTERS
This is just one hire, but the move is reflective of a more considerable shift behind the scenes, as one of Ska’s co-founders and its vice president of operations have left the day-to-day business to focus on side projects, according to Thibodeau.

Bill Graham, who co-founded Ska in 1995, has stepped away to focus on Peach Street Distillers, a spirits company he launched with Thibodeau in 2005. (Thibodeau is a partner at Peach Street, but says he’s still involved day-to-day with Ska.) Matt Vincent, meanwhile, who bought into the company in 1997, is dedicating his time to Ska Fabricating, a spinoff business that makes brewing equipment. All three are still equal owners of Ska, Thibodeau says, adding their changing priorities necessitated a shakeup at the executive level.

“When they left I kind of became in charge of all of the day-to-day stuff and wasn’t able to focus on the marketing and the sales,” Thibodeau tells GBH. “We really wanted to get somebody in here who was really better at the operation side than I am, and that would also enable me to do some of the other things in my life that I’ve neglected for the last 21 years, like saying hi to my family every now and then.”

Enter Steve Breezley, who began his career at Avery as a brewer before being promoted up to COO. He’s been consulting Ska for three months now, but officially started last week, he says. At Ska, he hopes to help diversify the company’s product portfolio, namely by expanding its barrel-aging and sour program. (It’s worth noting that Avery, the company he just left, has been vocal recently about its own plans to build what could be the nation’s largest barrel program.)

“Ska has had a barrel program in the past, but it’s been pretty limited, pretty small, on the side,” Breezley says. “One thing I really wanted to bring to them is a little bit of experience there and expand that and more formalize it.”

Furthermore, he says, consumers can expect to see Ska beers “expanded across the country instead of just here regionally, locally.” Neither Breezley nor Thibodeau though could yet elaborate on specific plans for market expansion, saying instead “it’s definitely part of our conversation.”

Thibodeau seems confident that Breezley’s experience will serve the company well as it starts a new chapter. 

“After being in it this long, it’s great to have someone like Steve who has some outside eyes,” he says. “I think sometimes I take for granted that I just live in this crazy beer world. I don’t naturally necessarily know what might be best to do next. Having perspective from someone who’s gone through that is really comforting… I don’t think we could’ve found someone to make me feel that way other than Breezley here.”

—Dave Eisenberg

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Ska Brewing Hires Steve Breezley as Chief Operating Officer [Ska Brewing]