Musical Chairs at New Belgium — Can Employee-Owned be Executive-Led?

Michael Kiser

THE GIST
New Belgium has tapped a former spirits executive as its new CEO, concluding a seven-month effort to fill the role that began earlier this year. In a statement, the company says Steve Fechheimer is set to take the helm and oversee New Belgium’s “executive team, short-term strategy, industry leadership, and day-to-day operations” beginning this August. He joins the nation’s fourth largest craft brewery by volume from Beam Suntory, a premium spirits giant where he worked for eight years and most recently served as chief strategy officer.
 


WHY IT MATTERS
Fechheimer takes over for company founder Kim Jordan, but the move isn’t a straight succession. Although she led the company for 25 years, Jordan stepped down as CEO in 2015 and took the role as executive chair on the brewery’s board of directors. However, she has been serving as interim CEO since this past January, following the departure of Christine Perich, her first successor who ultimately left the beer business after a little more than a year at the helm for a gig at WTRMLN WTR, a cold-pressed juice company that counts R&B superstar Beyoncé as an investor.
 
Thus, the Fechheimer appointment ostensibly resolves an executive game of musical chairs. In a statement, Jordan, who will now resume her role on the brewery’s board, says she’s excited about the future.
 
“His expertise at strategy development and execution in the high-end world of spirits, coupled with our 26 years of solid brewing and branding, is a perfect setup for the kind of dynamic future New Belgium is planning,” she says. “Steve is smart and driven while also being approachable, and we’re all excited about the perfect cultural and business fit. We took our time to find a terrific candidate and feel very lucky that we’ve done just that.”

Some of the experience Fechheimer brings to the table that might benefit one of the largest craft brewers includes M&A in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, Australia, Spain, Philippines, Germany, the UK and South Africa, IT strategies to support finance, supply chain, marketing, and sales teams, and brand management — Fechheimer lead the global expansion and innovation pipeline of Skinnygirl, the real-housewife-backed brand from Bethenny Frankel and sold to Beam Suntory for a reported $100M

For New Belgium, this new hire could bring some stability after a couple of uncertain years that include an East coast brewery that ran way over timeline and budget, a rejiggering of their core portfolio with successful volume brands like Citradelic and Day Blazer, and the speculated possibility of a sale for which the brewery, an employee-owned outfit, decided to remain independent for the foreseeable future. But it also represents a challenge in integrating the vast experience of someone like Fechheimer into a relative niche where he has little, especially for a staunchly employee-owned company with a long-standing and vocal grassroots culture. 
 
That game of musical chairs, as it were, isn’t confined to the captain’s seat, however. The announcement also coincides with the departure of vice president of marketing Ruairi Twomey, who recently left the company having only been hired away from Diageo, another predominantly spirits-lead company, in March of last year. His full-time replacement has not yet been named, but New Belgium has appointed Jenn Vervier to fill the role in an interim capacity. Vervier has been with the company for 20 years and most recently served as the director of strategy and sustainability.
 
Lastly, the company has also named Joe Davis as its new chief operating officer. Davis, who has been with New Belgium since 2013, also serves as general counsel to the company.
 
GBH has reached out to New Belgium for comment.

— Dave Eisenberg