Kim Jordan, cofounder of New Belgium Brewing Company, is America’s wealthiest female brewer. That makes her one of the most successful female entrepreneurs in America, and she’s a mere $25 million short of landing a spot on the Forbes list of the country’s 60 richest self-made women.
In 1991, Jordan and her then-husband Jeff Lebesch took out a second mortgage to open a brewery. Lebesch took on the role of head brewer for New Belgium and Jordan became CEO. A decade later, Lebesch would leave New Belgium.
Jordan, however, never gave up on the brewery. She pushed into more and more markets, launched more and more beers, and grew the business. In 2000, Jordan began shifting her ownership of New Belgium to her workers, implementing an employee stock ownership program. Her accountants and advisers fought her decision to launch the ESOP, and skeptics believed she was making a huge mistake. Still, Jordan sold the last of her ownership stake to the ESOP in 2012. Just three years later, New Belgium became America’s fourth largest brewer of craft beer. Jordan’s strategy has worked.
As Forbes pointed out, sure, Jordan could have ridden the craft beer craze all the way to the bank. After all, massive brewers like MillerCoors and AB-InBev have been snapping up craft brewers left and right for the past couple of years. Just last year Ballast Point reportedly sold for a staggering $1 billion. When one considers that New Belgium sells more than 7 times the craft beer per year than New Ballast, who knows for what possibly astronomical number Jordan could have sold the brewery?
But then, who knows if New Belgium would be as strong as it is now had Jordan not sold her ownership to her employees. Had America’s wealthiest female brewer listened to her advisors, accountants and critics, would her employees have worked so hard to make New Belgium so successful? Jordan’s strategy of empowerment, transparency, and literally sharing the wealth with her employees seems to have paid off: New Belgium sales rose to $225 million in 2015.
"I wanted them to have some access to wealth,” Jordan said to Forbes of her employees. “When I bring it down to a personal level, there's only so much money that I need.”
You can read the Forbes interview in its entirety here.