When Workers Take Charge
Full Sail brewmaster Jim Kelter (left) and lead brewer
Barney Brennan displayed the first case of newly-released
Session Black in June.
Chief Executive Irene Firmat and her brewmaster husband James Emmerson converted their business, Full Sail Brewing in Hood River, Ore., to a worker-owned company in 1999. Firmat said they wanted to avoid being bought by a larger company and "incentivize the  people already working there."
Now, 55 of the 90 workers are partial owners, and she said this arrangement has helped the company find ways to save money and increase profits in the face of a recession.
Last year, when the brewery faced soaring commodity costs, she said that owners from different departments agreed to buy efficient new machines that saved on expensive raw materials. This year, the owners agreed to accept smaller margins and make new hires even as job cutting became rampant nationwide.
"The decision to live out this time with smaller margins was supported by our investors -- our employees who were implementing this strategy and seeing results daily," she said. "I think it would have been far different if we had a more traditional ownership with disengaged investors just seeking shorter-term results."