Bill Brock of Straub Brewery – Q&A
Bill Brock, President and CEO of Straub Brewery, will be the keynote speaker for the IEE’s third annual Family Business Day. Bill is fifth generation in his family business, founded by his Great-Great Grandfather Peter Straub in the 1870s.
- What drew you back to the family business and the community of St. Marys after 25 years?
Growing up, and for most of my adult life, I never envisioned living my life in St. Marys – or working for the Brewery. While I assumed I would be involved someday in some capacity, my focus leaving undergraduate was elsewhere – far away from my hometown and the business. Over the years when I was finally old enough to appreciate the kind of life a community like St. Marys could offer, I was too busy with my career and family to consider it an option.
The idea of returning home to work at Straub Brewery was first put to me by my cousin, the sitting President at the time. He was building a transition plan with the goal of retiring. While the offer came as a pleasant surprise, I respectfully declined and continued to do so for the next four years.
Ultimately, what changed my mind was the realization that my Great-Great-Grandfather, Great Grandfather, Grandfather and Mother had each dedicated all or significant portions of their lives to building and maintaining a legacy for themselves but also out of an obligation to their children and grandchildren. My decision to return to St. Marys was a process and an evolution of awareness regarding the importance of the Brewery and its legacy; an obligation to my family; and the significance of the opportunity I was being offered.
- How do you keep family owners who are not actively working in the business informed and engaged?
Straub Brewery practices both formal and informal means of communication to keep owners involved. Our largest formal gathering is the annual Stockholder meeting. This yearly meeting has grown from a simple brief gathering of owners where the minimum legal requirements were met to that of structured annual event with the goal being to give the family a detailed snapshot of our industry, the performance of our company and the strategy for the coming years. At this meeting, the Board and senior management offer the family an extremely honest and highly transparent view into the performance of the company – equally spending time on what was done right as well as where we have fallen short. While it is expected and even healthy that there is always some level of disagreement amongst the family, the transparency creates a level of trust that is invaluable in building consensus.
Informally, the Straub Brewery has established means of communicating information through various family channels and spokespersons, usually via the Board of Directors. This communication is used to transmit information when there is either a particular problem or issue with a family member or to answer specific questions that have been asked of the company informally or through back channels.
- What are some of the core values of the owning family of Straub Brewery that have been passed on through all five generations?
The internal motto of the Board of Directors and Senior Management is “Do the right things for the right reasons”. This principle permeates into how Straub Brewery manages the company and how we treat our employees. It even drives how we produce, market and sell our products.
As a private company, Straub must be profitable, but there is an obligation to do so with both integrity and honesty. My job is to maximizing profits while doing the right things for the right reasons. While there are still many difficult choices, this process forces Straub Brewery to be accountable for the business decisions we make. This is how my Great-Great Grandfather Peter Straub ran the company and how each generation has managed the Brewery ever since.
Straub also places a premium on the importance of building and maintaining strong relationships. Knowing our employees, business partners and customers as people generates the type of communication and interaction that can improve the bottom line and significantly improve business accountability. This is a practice that requires time, energy and commitment; but for more than 145 years I believe it has been a critical component of our long-term success.
- What local initiatives and community involvement on behalf of Straub Brewery are you most proud of?
Straub Brewery takes pride in our commitment and engagement with our local communities. Over the years, the company has been involved in so many outstanding projects and efforts that it is difficult to point to any single one in particular. I am proud of the fact that both the company and our employees are continually willing to get involved; often it is to lend a hand or financial support for a good cause, but also the engagement is about improving the quality of life in the area.
Straub has developed an internal committee, comprised of employees, that reviews donation requests and makes the actual decisions on the merits of where and how we can get involved. While one of the criteria is certainly related to the business, other criterion focuses on need, impact, viability of a project and if Straub’s support will help achieve the desired outcomes.
- Can you elaborate on any pressures or challenges you face as a prominent locally owned family business within your community?
The interesting reality for Straub Brewery is that we are intricately linked to Elk County, PA. We are certainly not the largest company in the area, but we are one of the most visible. I am proud of this linkage, but it does mean that our successes – and more importantly our setbacks, are very visible. The silver lining, however, is that visibility has created another level of accountability, and I believe that makes us a better company. It forces us to spend a little bit more time on the decision-making process, weighing the pros and cons and their impacts; creating a strategic environment rather than tactical.