Ep 001: Ed McBrien

For the pilot of our show, we couldn’t have landed a better beer seller than Ed McBrien. Ed manages Manhattan Beer: one of the beverage distributors in the US and the largest single market beer distributor in the country. Manhattan is arguably the epicenter of our country, and Ed and his robust team sells beer to a countless number of on and off premise accounts. Ed shares his stories of how he got started in the industry and how Manhattan Beer has grown to where it is today. Systems and tools change, but selling beer is always about the same things, closing gaps and growing relationships.

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You have to know when to speak and when not to speak. Well you know talk that that through his actions really really well. I'll never forget I was at an event. With Bruce Lee who was just an iconic beer distributor in northern Indiana.

And Bruce Ed my guest for episode number one is Ed McBrien for this interview. Ed and I are sitting across from each other at his desk in the Bronx after just finishing a meeting where we reviewed the chain execution improvements for his team across a staggering number of accounts. Ed is the CEO of Manhattan Beer and was formerly my boss's boss when he was a longtime member of the executive leadership team at MillerCoors. I sell beer presents to you. Ed McBrien

I am not a fool about basket. You're Mr. Lebowski. I'm the dude. Yeah. Tell you what you can take a good look at a butcher's act by sticking your head up there. But when you rather take his word for it. To him and you know all the freaking chips Kip. Point. Don't be jealous that I've been chatting online with them. All day. We have a pot in the back pool and a pot. Of tea. Good for you

Welcome to the ISIL beer podcast with Tracy Neal a production for sales reps and distributors who are driving around all day selling beer and the official home of the ISIL beer nation Facebook group. And now your host the 1989 winner of the John M. Studebaker Wheelbarrow Race in hanged town California Tracy Neal.

All right so Ed thank you for joining me here today. It's good to be here in New York City. Thank you. The lovely South Bronx. Yes exactly. So Ed tell me what did you want to be. When you grew up when you were when you were a kid either a middle aged kid or a high school kid. What what was the what was the career goal that you were seeking for.

You know I really didn't have one. I think it's interesting when people are at a young age are able to articulate what they want to be when they when they get older. I didn't really have a particular occupation or career I was looking for I simply knew that I wanted to go out and be successful and have a little bit better life.

Ok now when you say successful what so as a child I know that sometimes our definitions of success when we're younger versus older.

But when you were when you were younger and you had this idea of being successful what did that mean that meant being involved in the business community in some way shape or form and being involved in my community or church in some way.

And so while I remember distinctly I went to a parochial school through 9th grade that my twin brother and I were part of the ninth grade graduating class and they're only nine of us in the class or my twin brother and I were almost 25 percent of the graduating class of our little Lutheran school. And I remember meeting folks at the church who were really successful in business. And they you know I look up to them and I respected what they had accomplished they were typically not just successful in business but they were involved in the church in an active way and my parents had always taught us to work hard to give back to the community to be involved and to have a strong work ethic. And you know that all that all rolled up to I knew that I wanted to go out and make my mark somewhere in the business world but I didn't really know what that that was going to look like.

Ok. So so that brings me to the next question. You know this this podcast is really about my first day on the job. That's what I want to focus on is my first day on the job. I know you may or may not have had jobs before you got into the beer business. But starting with your beer career. What was the first day that you were on the job.

I did. I did have a career before beer right. I worked for Procter and Gamble for 13 years. And you know my four it's interesting my first day on the job in the beer business I was sent out all by myself to work with a very small distributor in northern Kentucky and literally the distributor operated out of a Quonset hut and had you know oil on the floor and kitty litter soaking up the oil. It was a really small you know four or five truck operation in northern Kentucky. And so that was my introduction to rhythm.

What are we in here on your first day. Nineteen ninety four nineteen nineteen eighty four is September ninety four. Yeah. December of nineteen ninety four. September. Okay here's my side. My first day on the job was December 9 okay. And we're still at it. Yes we're still in it. Good. So you went out and who was your boss at the time. You mean the boss's name.

Well I was I was originally hired by Terry Nasrallah but Carl Barnhill was was head of sales and then Terry was running the central region at the time and I see you make a smile a smiling face when I say Carl Barnhill.

Oh yeah yeah. Barnhill yes the Marine our boss's boss's boss from many many years. Exactly right. Yep. A great gentleman. We had some good time out in Hawaii. Yeah sure you did quite a few times in Hawaii. OK. So and what were you. What were you tasked with on your first day. I mean we just I know on my particular first day it was like they just gave me the briefcase and some and a sharpie and said give us go get Price. But it was interesting.

It was just really a broad acclimation to the beer business right. So it was just as you get a sense of of what beer distributors do. You know I didn't have a particularly formal orientation in place. You know I remember of the second or third day on the job we'd play golf. A golf outing and we had people were hitting Mogo golf balls and I thought oh my gosh this is the best business in the world really. We played golf and they give us golf balls. And but I was I had taken over the chain side of the business in the Midwest. So that was a part of the business I knew really well and quickly thereafter right. My work was all about getting out in a meeting with with our reps and calling on the accounts and trying to sell some Coors Light. Do you remember your first placement. Yeah it was. It was blueberry muffin mix it Dell's Food Emporium in Ithaca Michigan. And I say that because I started working as a sales rep for Procter and Gamble so I remember my first placement. But yeah on the beer side I remember one of our first big initiatives was we were selling Coors Light 16 ounce bottles and a wide mouth on the top. And we called pounder the powder. We called them the pounder. And so we sold a bunch of new distribution on that package across the Midwest.

Definitely. And did you ever do work with with Carl in your early days. I know liberty is obviously but in the early days of this first year I did. Sure of course. Yeah. How were those.

They were fine. I was you know Carl came from a traditional retail background having worked for Frito-Lay. I came from a very you know traditional well respected retail background working for Procter so he and I hit it off really well at retail right. It's all about you know understanding the store conditions What's the account trying to achieve. You know who are their customers all that kind of stuff so. And then and then just the fundamentals of merchandising and the store right distribution and pricing and and display support and point of sale all that stuff and all all really just blocking and tackling stuff that still makes a difference to this day.

Okay great. Was there a particular I know from my first couple of weeks there was one particular retailer that really helped me out. I went and I made the sales pitch and they said yes to everything I asked for. Did you have to remember a particular retailer like that.

Well I was I was lucky in that way so I mean it's a long story but I was originally being recruited to be a AVP and every vice president and training. Long story short call takes over replaces Terry now seller and so he comes to me and says oh by the way you're going to be a retailing contractor. And I said well. That's a couple of levels below what I was doing at PMG and I've already quit my job over there so I guess that's what I'll do. But I was lucky. So my my last job I had before I left Procter I ran the Kroger team for a handful of divisions and so I knew a lot of the senior people at Kroger. And so I was able to leverage my relationships with corporate corporate life but really more at the K amaze at that time. They were less centralized than they are today. So knowing the division presidents and I knew them all really well was really helpful.

Okay yeah. So they helped me a lot.

The economy was the toughest at the time was Meyer in Michigan. So Meyers a hypermarket account right. They do a spit. They actually one of the first hypermarkets in the United States they were a regional player in the Midwest and they're they're really they're really really good operator. They're a high quality company. They give back to the Grand Rapids Community. But we had no share in Michigan at the time. We had a two or three share and we looked awful in Meyer stores and that was a tough this account because it was really important to our Michigan distributors but we didn't have a lot to sell right because we had no scale right. It was a bit more right. We're the big dogs. And so that was a that was a long time coming but we we finally broke through with them over time.

What did what did you do to break through. You know it's funny. It's it was a little bit counterintuitive. So

At the time and parts of the Midwest of course it was priced below Miller Lite and Bud Light. And so after I became area vice president we took the price of course light up and that created a bit of a firestorm with a bunch of our distributors.

One group in particular the southern Illinois guys wrote a letter to Pete Coors saying that you know this guy doesn't understand the beer business and there's no way in the world that we can sell coors light at the same price. The Bud Light Miller Lite sell for which was really helpful for me because you know telling Pete Coors that his beer isn't as valuable as the other guys is really not a good strategy. So but really fundamentally right I very much believe that the price is a component of branding and when you're priced below the leaders of the market it doesn't communicate value. It communicates that you're not as wealthy. And my my hypothesis was that in the Midwest where our share was as low as it was that we had a we had a base of loyal drinkers who were willing to pay what the brand was worth and that we weren't going to alienate them. So we started to take the price up right. We started on bottles first and we went to cans and that was really all right. That was the start of of course like becoming more successful in the Midwest because it started to feel like a premium brand.

Good good. So then you broke through with Meyer right go a long long time. Yeah I'd say even to this day right. It's still it's still a tough market. Doing really well MillerCoors is doing really well up there but it took a while for sure. Okay

Yeah. Who was somebody in the first couple of years that you're in this industry. Who's somebody you'd like to give a thank you shout out to who is somebody that really helped you. Develop some of the skills or talents that were maybe in you but that you really learned to. Do perfecting to bring out.

Well I mean I learned from from from a lot of people right sometimes you'll learn from what they do well and sometimes you learn from what they don't do so well right. And so you're trying to take the good and the bad. So I have to give credit to Terry Nasr. God rest his soul good man he hired me Carl gave me lots of opportunities.

He was he was a tough taskmaster but he gave me a lot of opportunities and I was I was grateful for that. I had a lot of respect I still do for Leo Kiley and his leadership style. You know Leo was always the last guy to put his voice in the room which I think is a is a powerful learning lesson for anyone who aspires to be a leader. You know you have to know when to speak and when not to speak and Leo talk that that through his actions really really well. I'll never forget I was at an event with Bruce Lee who was whose interest in iconic beer distributor in northern Indiana.

And Bruce had a bunch of the presidents of the other breweries altogether in a kind of a social event. And I'll never forget Bill Hackett came up to me and congratulated me on how well I was doing and the way that I was leading in the industry and that was really nice. All right here's a guy who was a competitor. This was actually before Constellation was nearly as hot and as big and powerful as they are today. But I go back in the crown days it was back in the crown days but I had a lot of respect for Bill because I liked the way that he led and so that was that was very kind of him. You know guys like Rob Klugman right who are just there remember Rob grabs genius right. He's as good as strategic thinkers or is in the beer industry so I learned a lot from from being around Rob and I'm sure there are a lot of other people who are missing but. I'd also say that a big part of of

Any success I've had is that the people who I had a chance to work with. Right so you know I worked literally with thousands and thousands and thousands of wonderful folks who work hard and contribute every single day. And so it's fun to watch their careers as they progressing and kind of take on the mantle of leadership. What's the. What's the outcome that the team led accomplishment that you would be most proud of

In the last 20 years in the industry. If you if you had to put down on your resume if you had one bullet point. Your name was at the top of the paper and there was one point bullet point it was a team led accomplishment.

What would that want to be. There'd be three. OK I'm sorry. I got I got to give you three of these are the piece of paper he's got he's come he has come to mind in this order so when I when I took over the Midwest as Area Vice President I was retail a contractor for Buddy here got promoted ran the Midwest. We had eight business units across the U.S. the Midwest was always ranked last. I mean that last deadliest dead ass last and there was a sense that we could never break out and we pulled together a brand new leadership team there. In total the world about 40 or 44 of us running you know was a nine state area and our first year we went from last to second and we were number one in the country the next five years in a row and dump. That was a that was a team effort right. It was. You know guys like John Gavin Wright was part of that team and Max Graham was part of that team and so anyway it was it was it was very very blessed. Dennis maple right whose stance we've done other things right. I was very blessed. That was I felt that was that was really exciting times for all of us.

And we were on a big roll the second one. That I guess I would reference is the work that Fritz India I did at a course. Right. So we went out of five or six year bags for a five year run where we were as hot a group you know brewing company as there was in the United States and that was mostly because a lot of things right. Really good advertising spectacular leadership strategic leadership from friends and we decentralize our organization and we gave local general managers the power to make decisions in the market in beer local business and you have to empower people to make decisions on the ground. I think this idea of running things in a centralized way is is stymies creativity and limits the ability of of strong smart local people to make a difference so that idea of rolling off the GM model really allowed us to work more closely with distributors at a time when we didn't have the scale to be as powerful as some of our competitors. And then the third thing is you know I've been here manhandle beer for two and a half almost three years now. And I'm just really proud of the work that this leadership team has done right we have significantly improved.

Our overall profitability as an organization our customer services and organization. The work that we're doing to build our team training and development. That kind of thing have been very very blessed to come over to Manhattan Beer. SIMON Bergson has given you know he's the founder of this company. He's given me an awful lot of latitude to work with this team to make changes. He he puts up you know guardrails when they're appropriate right. Simon knows everything there is to know about New York. And so he's a real good sounding board in terms of what will work and what won't work. But it's funny I was reflecting back. I have a guy I work with a lot of personal coach who's now just a dear friend of mine and it's interesting through reflection is it seems like all of the stuff that I've done in my beer career. Really contributed to being able to be successful in this role you know leading a really big beer distributor. And it just all it's all come full circle for me and I love I love the distribution side of the business and I love this team.

We have a great group of leaders who are deeply connected and passionate and there is not a better group of people distribute leadership folks in America than this group right. In terms of winning at retail guys like Billy DeLuca right. I mean you'll eat your heart out right in this boat. MIKE MCCARTHY Right leading operations delivering. You know 46 million cases of beer and twenty five thousand customers right in the most complex market maybe in the world. It's just spectacular work. This is a bit of a traffic grid. Golly I'm so blessed to be part of it. It's crazy. So anyway those are a couple thoughts. That's awesome.

You mentioned training in development as kind of a new thing that you were very proud of that you've done with this team. Is there any particular chain development track that you can share.

Well you know like most like many distributors right. So our our approach to compensation had been a little bit ad hoc right. It had grown up over the years. Our approach to performance management and development again very ad hoc different by function in some functions well developed in other functions non-existent so we've just done the basics right. So we've rolled out actual performance plans for everyone in the organization and we've tightened compensation right to how we perform as an organization and how people perform individually. We've actually got development plans now in place. We've hired a new director of talent management Andre penitentiary. She's doing a terrific job. We've hired two people to lead training beneath or one for sales and one for operations. And so they are building out a curriculum of of of adult learning programs that are hosted in the cloud that are taught face to face a number of different ways of people tapping into what are their career aspirations. What are the skills required for them to achieve those goals and then how do we put them in a position to get the right experiences right to hone those skills and to grow inside the company. So I mean it's it's really fundamental stuff but it's it makes a big difference when people know that you care bottom and that you're committed to their development. That's a that makes a big difference.

That's great. Thank you very much for sharing that. Well thank you for your time. I've really enjoyed talking with you and I appreciate you sharing it opening up on your career your first day. How you started your career. I thoroughly enjoy being a vendor of Manhattan Beer and I appreciate your your support for CPG data and the ISO beer platform. It's important. Do you mind giving us a 30 minute plug. 30 seconds. Shameless plug on how you use CPG data. Sure. I sell beer.

Sure subject in the beer business is fundamentally about winning at retail right. I mean execution matters.

It is good as is the main beer team is is it execution when you want to market our size again. Twenty five thousand customers six hundred people on our sales organization you need to enable that team with technology and with tools so we've invested in IP for our entire organization we know that winning on the floor with display is important. We didn't have an organized mechanized way of setting goals tracking performance really driving performance and that's where CPG data now ISO beer came into came into play for us. We track our performance in terms of display supported feature every single week. And what's fun about it is I can now go to suppliers and I can say hey we actually have an organized way of doing this right. We incent our people we reward them for these for results. And oh by the way here's what that means for you. And I was I was just with Kevin and Gavin of course and I was able to show them what our display support looked like. I mean of course brands year over year and it's better right. And it shouldn't be better right. Those are big beautiful brands and we need to be doing better with them and we need to win at retail. And so we can demonstrate where we're making progress. We do that for all of our suppliers. And it's just a systemic way of putting. Making our team better. It's selling at retail. And as you know we're we're poking you for more help another in other areas because I'm a big fan of giving our people the tools that they need to win in a really really competitive beer business.

Thank you. Well thank you. We enjoy supporting you it's been a little over a two year partnership now really. It makes me happy to hear that not only are we saved new time but we're driving improved execution.

That's. That's what it's about. Absolutely. All right. Thank you very much. Thanks Jason. Good seeing you. Thank you. You too.

So what's the best tasting beer in America who cares. That's for the consumer to decide. And until they do you will keep selling them new brand every day. As it just shift our sales rep. You can become a part of the ICL beer nation by subscribing to this podcast and using the hashtag. I sell beer in all your social posts. Also be sure to join the ICL beer nation Facebook group and visit our website. Our industry is an up and down the street business where local relationships matter. I want to thank you for making me a part of your day and wish you good luck on the objectives for your next account. God in fact I know you're going to crush it.

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