Do All Brewers Make Great Brewery Managers?

When a brewery begins, a lot of the time it starts small — with a brewer running the show. As time progresses and a brewery increases in size, that brewer needs to make a decision to give up the day-to-day operations, or move into a management role.

And then sometimes, you aren’t the brewer at the start and management is the start for you and you have to grow into that position.

That’s how it has been for Highland Brewing President Leah Wong Ashburn, whose father Oscar Wong founded Highland, yet was not a brewer.

“Management is not always managing,” she said. “It’s leading, and sometimes that means leading by example. You do what needs to be done.”

Like any small family-owned company, Wong finds ways to contribute on the spot.

“I’ll write a press release and edit copy, excuse myself from a meeting to greet a guest, even wipe off a table,” she said.

But the work has changed as the years have progressed.

“I have to be intentional about taking time to think,” Wong said. “It’s easy to get caught up in 100 smaller tasks, but I have to make time for the important, philosophical questions that require uninterrupted time and gathering knowledge from different sources to create a path.”


People are the hardest part of management she noted.

“We are complex,” she said. “One message can be heard in several ways and can elicits a rainbow of emotions.”

She also said that people are the best part of management with the top rewards being that a team member grows as a result of giving them opportunity; seeing the quality and quantity of work that gets done with a united team; and earning trust, and feeling that trust, from your team as a leader.”

So when that time comes for a brewer to step into management. Wong says it should be a weighed option.

“Being a great brewer does not mean you will be a great manager,” she said. “The more you love hands-on brewing, the more you should carefully weigh whether management is the right move for you.

“Some great brewers are great managers. Know the skill sets, the differences, and know yourself.”

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