Brewbound Live: Bell’s Brewery EVP Carrie Yunker on transforming your business with one question

“What do you think?”

Asking your teams for their feedback can unlock a new level of engagement with your workforce, Carrie Junker, executive vice president of Bell’s Brewery, shared with business leaders and entrepreneurs during last week’s Brewbound Live keynote in Santa Monica, California .

Junker shared her nearly 20-year journey from receptionist to heir apparent to founder Larry Bell.

“I don’t come from an MBA program. I don’t come from the sales and marketing side of the business. I didn’t start or inherit the business,” says Juncker. “I came from the people in the business.”

Her own career at Bell’s began nearly 20 years ago with a similar question—one that has been repeated over the years. She recalled a phone call from a friend at a temp agency who offered the front desk job that would eventually launch her career. Her friend asked her what she thought about a front desk job at a craft brewery in Michigan that was looking for someone with “thick skin who could work with a bunch of big dudes.” Juncker’s response: “I’m in.”

Juncker was employee number 50 at Bell’s. The job of receptionist quickly became an “attractive” position as she took on everything from administering payroll and tax returns to purchasing uniforms and providing janitorial services. Juncker, as she was repeatedly asked to find solutions, was asked: “What do you think?”

As Bell’s grew, so did its leadership team. What was missing was someone dedicated to taking care of the people who helped the brewery grow. Juncker filled that role and it became her “life’s passion”, “caring for the people who power our business”.

There were mistakes along the way. An anti-harassment training trial in 2007 put a strain on women, particularly Juncker, who was asked to act out a scenario to deal with “boy talk and dirty jokes and laugh it off”.

“As I was processing this, I had this moment of clarity where I realized that my real job as a leader is not to teach people how to deal with these scenarios,” she explained. “To make sure these scenarios don’t exist in my workplace. Because no one should feel uncomfortable about who they are, who they love, about a conversation in the break room. In fact, we as leaders and business owners should hold ourselves to a higher standard. We must prioritize the work of creating a safe and inclusive environment for our teams. Because our business isn’t fueled by hops and 6-packs and tanks. Our business is powered by people. And our priority must be a commitment to creating that safe and inclusive culture.”

Juncker urged attendees to ask their people for their perspective, what is their experience and what do you think? She emphasized that what works for her and her colleagues at Bell’s doesn’t necessarily work for others.

“That’s what makes this work so meaningful and so personal,” she continued.

For Bell’s, there have been realizations along the way that “the company’s intent doesn’t match our impact” and there remains “a lot of work to do,” Juncker said. The company has made the job a “top-level” priority.

For Juncker, the job was boosted by the hiring of Courtney Simmons as director of diversity, equity and inclusion. And it was dictated by the request of the company’s workforce to provide their perspective.

“We rely on that feedback every day to make our business better,” she said.

The work can be challenging, “difficult” and “scary,” Juncker admitted, even for companies with special resources. And “there is no finish line.” However, she encouraged leaders to put their fears behind them, to “be bold and ready to take action” and “commit to practice over perfection”, acknowledging that they will sometimes be wrong.

“When you do this type of work for your colleagues, the impact is huge,” she said.

Juncker suggested leaders “be ambitious, set a visionary goal” and then “take a breath and take at least five steps back and do at least one small thing.” Those little things add up, and they’re “the only way we’re going to get through this job, which is so complicated,” she said.

Besides being the right thing to do, leading with a people-centric mindset is the best way to increase revenue and achieve business goals, Juncker said. This type of work is noticed by consumers who are as focused on who they buy from as they are on what they buy.

“People drive your business, and your business will only thrive when your people thrive,” she said. “The data continues to tell us that this is the right way to build a successful and profitable business. Because ethnically and gender diverse teams offer companies more opportunities to solve problems and better solutions.

“We need to recognize that all of our businesses are enhanced by inclusive working.”

Juncker shares more insights and more of his very personal journey in the video above. It also touches on Bell’s plans for 2023, which include going national.

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