What Makes an Innovation Superstar?

Sierra Nevada- more than great beer.

You might be wondering, why did I feature a beer company as an Innovation SuperstarTM. After all, it’s not exactly high technology – which of course, is exactly my point. Sierra Nevada is not in the technology business, they’re not even in the product business, they’re not even in the service business. Successful companies are in the customer value business. In this case, beer is the value.

What’s interesting about Sierra Nevada is that, in an industry that’s almost completely driven by how much you spend on advertising, they spend virtually no money on advertising or promoting their product. That’s pretty incredible, considering they are the sixth largest brewer in the entire U.S.
Great companies deliver great products and services; while bad or sick companies deliver bad products or services. Sierra Nevada is a great company. They understand that in order to deliver the best product in the world, they must create an environment that fosters innovation and quality.

What I’ve consistently found in Innovation SuperstarsTM is that they’re systemically value-centered. What do I mean by that? They care about their community. They care about their employees and their product. They care about the world they live in – for example, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. has one of the largest solar arrays in the state of California, second only to Google. Their goal was energy independence, and in fact they are able to produce 80 percent of their own electricity. Additionally they are extremely conscientious about all things related to the environment. Their president Ken Grossman is committed to delivering a product that is environmentally conscious.

Sierra Nevada cares about its employees. If you’re lucky enough to work there, you have access to the company’s own medical clinic, which operates four hours a day, 6 days a week only for Sierra Nevada employees and their families. You also have access to a massage therapist – because the company decided that was a way to provide additional value free of charge to its employees. And, if you’re a beer lover – and the folks who work at Sierra Nevada are definitely beer lovers – you get a “beer buck” redeemable for one case of beer with every paycheck!

I must admit that I love beer. Really, I love great beer, and I think I know what great beer is. When touring their amazingly pristine factory, I saw a bunch of people just like me working there – beer lovers. They were talking about beer, they were enthusiastic about it. As I talked to various people on the floor in the production area, there was a tremendous pride and enthusiasm that they were part of something “so cool.” When their friends find out they work at Sierra Nevada, they’re treated almost like royalty – that’s a great company, a great company that produces amazing products.
When I interviewed Grossman, I asked one very important question: “Do you still love this?” He smiled, and said: “Absolutely.” You could see the sincerity in his eyes and his smile. Even though he has been in the business for 30 years, he still wakes up every morning with a tremendous amount of pride and passion – and that’s what makes an Innovation SuperstarTM.

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