US entrepreneur Jim Koch founded the Boston Beer Company in 1984. His father had only made $500 in the last six months of his own brewing career, so it was a brave move for Koch to start a brewery.
Prior to that, Koch had qualified in law and business school at Harvard University. In the middle of his studies, he spent three years teaching wilderness travel and mountaineering skills.
After he graduated from Harvard, Koch worked at elite consulting firm Boston Consulting Group for five years. He was then inspired to start his microbrewery.
His inspiration came from finding some old beer recipes while helping his dad clean out an attic. Koch had no connection with the brewing industry, other than his dad’s less-than-successful venture. He struggled to get it off the ground. In fact, although he initially wanted somebody else to make the sales for him, Koch got his wholesale licence and cold called pubs himself.
Now, 35 years later, his business is a public company with Samuel Adams Boston Lager its flagship brand. It has also been recently announced the Boston Beer Company will be merging with Dogfish Head Brewery.
Koch says too many people think about their career path in a linear fashion. His stint in mountaineering taught him a lot about how to assess risks – an essential skill for any business. Crucially, he learnt that the real dangers are often those that do not frighten us.
We think of a typical career path as this: we start as a technician, then move into management, then become CEO. Yet Koch was 34 before he became clear on what he truly wanted to do. The detours he took and his ability to ignore those who doubted him were what opened his mind to the possibility of brewing real beer for people to drink, instead of what his dad described as “basically water that can hold a head.”
We talk a lot about the future of work and the changing world. But if we have a fixed mindset, all we have is fear, and there is little possibility of the opportunities and freedom most business owners desire.
For some of us, the opportunity to do new things comes from necessity. When things go wrong, we have a choice: we can do something to move forward, or we can stay rooted to the spot and dwell on our misery. I have changed careers and businesses out of necessity and desire on different occasions. Changing course is challenging, but the tension wanes as the calmness of success drifts in. Whatever new business, career or relationship you want is waiting for you, but you must knock on the door.
I help business owners find a way forward. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.