Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The "Chief Everything Officer" gets a forklift driving lesson

Here's a great mistake story from Jim Koch, founder of the Boston Beer Company, brewer of Sam Adams beer. The interview with Koch is from a new series in the Washington Post called, "When We Were Small," about the startup phases of successful businesses.

When you start your own business, you’re the CEO, but you’re not the Chief Executive Officer, because there’s nobody there to execute for you. You’re the Chief Everything Officer. Immediately, you have to start doing these things you’ve never done before, and it ranges from, for us, how do you design a label? How do you make a sales call on a bar? How do you negotiate a real estate lease. I had never done any of that. And the list goes on and on, all these practical nuts and bolts of the business that, if you do them really badly, they can kill your company.

Here’s a literal example. In the very beginning, a truckload of beer arrived that I had to put away into the little warehouse we had. Well, I had never driven a forklift before. I had driven tractors and gators and things like that. But a forklift, I learned, steers from the back, which is a little different if you’ve never done it before. And you have this pallet of beer in front of you, so you can’t really see through the front.

So I get the beer off the loading dock and start driving it to the brick warehouse, where the door into the building is only about six inches wider than the pallet. So, I come rolling toward the door and — bang — the forklift hits the side of the door, takes out two courses of brick. The beer gets knocked off and half of it breaks. It took me an hour to sweep up. I never bothered to fix that door, though. I figured it I fixed it, I would just hit it again.

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