August 27, 2014

My New Crush: Kim Jordan of New Belgium and Her Wisdom

Most of you probably know all about Kim Jordan, the Co-founder and CEO of New Belgium Brewing. A few of you who know me also know that I am no stranger to hyperbole. With both those data points in mind, I’m sure no one is shocked to know that I have developed a serious crush.
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Most of you probably know all about Kim Jordan, the Co-founder and CEO of New Belgium Brewing. A few of you who know me also know that I am no stranger to hyperbole.

With both those data points in mind, I’m sure no one is shocked to know that I have developed a serious crush. Last night Kim was the featured speaker at the always awesome Silicon Flatirons Entrepreneurs Unplugged series at the University of Colorado. I don’t think I have ever been as amazed and inspired by a CEO.

Based on my limited exposure, Kim Jordan is the single most authentic, aligned, and committed leader I’ve ever had the privilege of hearing live at a 15-foot distance.

If you don’t know much, you can learn a lot more about Kim Jordan and the astounding culture at New Belgium by checking out the Core Values Page on the Fort Collins-based craft brewer’s site.  She has a huge national rep for her sustainability and culture-creation work. For my part, I just loved the clarity of her conviction admixed with really playful humor.

Here are the highlight quotes from Kim’s talk on Monday night:

On work-life balance:

“Work-life balance is totally overrated. You need to go rushing toward the thing you love the most.”

On love:

“Love is a word we use pretty liberally around our company. Fun is the lay of the land. We make beer. If you can’t have fun doing that you’re seriously challenged.”

On brand:

“Everything we do is brand. You get to signal your intent with thousands of tiny decisions you make. Let’s make those decisions congruent with our values.”

On winning:

“I like to win. That means I’m competitive. I think that people who say losing is as good as winning haven’t won very much. I guess these are most often thought of as masculine qualities.  But I’m also a fabulous sharer and believer in collaboration. These are most often considered feminine traits. I know men and women with wonderful mixes of both”

There were great stories about Kim’s peripatetic early career (firefighter, social worker, etc). A recitation of the decision to go with “Fat Tire” as a beer brand despite naysayers. And an explanation for the company’s sale of stock to its employees because it was the right thing to do and because Kim believes it’s easier to figure out what happens after you’re gone before you go rather than after. “You can have it sorted out after,” she said, “but it’s not nearly as elegant.”

Life is busy. Calendars are crowded. Going to a lecture always feels like something you cut out at the last minute. No one is expecting you. You won’t be missed. I had the thought to skip the talk and get to inbox zero. So glad I pushed down that shortsighted impulse and had the opportunity to expand my perspective on what leadership looks like at the absolute nexus of competition and love.

Sue Heilbronner

Sue Heilbronner is an executive coach, Conscious Leadership facilitator, and catalyst for change.

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