Q&A with new Deschutes CEO Michael LaLonde

Michael LaLonde has held various senior management roles at Deschutes Brewery since 2005. Recently, he was named CEO and president of the company after serving as its COO and president, replacing founder Gary Fish in the role.

LaLonde spearheaded the Bend, Oregon brewery’s expansion plans for building an East Coast facility in Roanoke, Virginia. He is said to have helped the company both define and stay true to its values, and has placed an emphasis on a culture of transparency. He also has been instrumental in the company’s strategic planning and employee engagement processes.

Fish said in a press release that LaLonde “has been serving in a CEO capacity for some time now,” and the new title better describes his role.

Brewer Magazine talked to LaLonde on a few topics, including his relationship with Fish, the future of the brand and expansion to the east for the Pacific Northwest brewery.

BREWER: What changes for you right now in your role other than having to buy new business cards?

LaLONDE: We go through a strategic planning process that focuses on the next 3-10 years so I don’t see a lot of changes coming in the near term. My time has been spent on developing relationships with our distributor and retail partners as well as focusing on our branding and marketing efforts. I also spend much of my time reinforcing our values and engaging our co-owners so that we are all aligned on our company’s strategies and tactics. Our team has just released some incredible new beers (American Wheat, Pacific Wonderland, Passion Fruit IPA, just to name a few) that are hitting the market plus a lot of projects in the works right now: a new racking line, six new 1,300 BBL fermenters, a new pilot brewery, a tasting room opening up in Roanoke, and a large brewery opening in Roanoke in 2020 not to mention and new ERP system. So the next few years are all about executing on what we have on our plate.


BREWER: Can you tell me about your relationship over the years working with Gary Fish and how he has helped you to this point as now the official CEO of Deschutes?

LaLONDE: Gary has been a great mentor, coach, role model and friend for many of us at Deschutes. His management and business philosophy is engrained in the company culture. Gary has a unique way to pull the best out of his team and is always a devil’s advocate in the decision-making process. His method of critical and creative thinking has helped me develop as a manager and a leader over the years and Gary has taught all of us to always focus on the consumer and to do the right thing for our customers, our co-owners, our partners in business and the community.


BREWER: Lets look east. 2021 seems so far away, but lots of effort is going into the Roanoke project. How is Brew 4 going?

LaLONDE: We are in the general design phase at the moment and have lot more work to do to get to the detailed engineering design that lead up to the tendering and construction phases. It seems far off but we still have a lot of work to do. Right now, our team is looking forward to connecting with all of our fans in Roanoke through our huge Street Pub event there in July, and our new tasting room that is opening downtown in late summer.


BREWER: Where does a larger craft beer producer [Deschutes was listed as the eighth largest by volume in 2016 at nearly 375,000 barrels] in this climate of business look for growth?

LaLONDE: First of all we are not large. We are still tiny comparatively. The opportunity for growth for us is just to have people taste our beers and to get to know us as a brewery. Once they have done that, we have fans for life.


BREWER: Has the definition of what can be called “successful” growth changed over the past few years?

LaLONDE: A few years ago we developed a vision to be the best damn brewery in the world as defined by our quality, our culture and our ability to add value. So that is the way we measure success. We have to do all three well. Since Gary founded the brewery we have always focused on slow and manageable growth and will continue to approach our business in that way.

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