Leadership Development Leads to Longevity

Finding the ability to succeed — and being able to fail and regroup during that process — is what good leaders strive to have. Identifying and maturing those roles can always be a role that current managers can look for to help increase the longevity of their business.

For Highland Brewing, Leah Wong Ashburn and her father, founder Oscar Wong, are able to lead together yet the duo have worked well despite not having similar leadership styles.

“He’s unique in that he wants me to figure things out my way – he’s the opposite of a control freak,” Ashburn said, who is the Asheville, NC brewery’s president and owner.

Ashburn said that the brewery has great examples where managers saw potential in employees and gave them the opportunities to grow.

“One hundred percent success isn’t the line to cross to move up – it’s about approach, working with people, through issues, and understanding the Highland philosophy that leads to longevity at Highland,” Ashburn said.

Growing and sustaining the culture through promotion has worked in many cases, she said. Ashburn cited off the top of her head six leaders that have moved from non-leadership roles and three have moved into expanded roles although there are times when the brewery will look for outside experience to “take a leap forward” in an area.


Ashburn said Jay Frazier, the brewery’s Packaging Manager, is a great example of training up leaders at the brewery.

Frazier was hired with no beer experience, and stacked cases, welded and did other shop work. After about 18 months, he moved up to filler operator, which was the original plan.

“In this high pressure role, it was clear he understood manufacturing and teamwork, and had the respect of the department,” Ashburn said, citing former manager Greg Ferguson as developing Frazier for the role. “Greg shared early and often with upper management what he was seeing in Jay. Jay was promoted to Packaging Lead, allowing Greg to focus more on installation of our new bottling and Jay to lead the team. Jay is also highly skilled mechanically but the split of duties fit the individuals and strengthened Highland overall. With Greg moving out of state, Jay is now Packaging Manager. Greg set the bar high and left a legacy, and Jay is moving us forward.”

The brewery has held some management training sessions, and it has a small employee library that includes some good reading on leadership, an HR Director (Lori Rasmussen) who helps managers with questions on how to lead through staff issues, and an employee assistance program that can help staff or anyone who lives with a brewery staff member with any issue – management, mental health, personal and professional relationships.

“It’s a great resource,” Ashburn said.

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