Ninkasi Brewing Co-Founder Reassumes CEO Role

Ninkasi Brewing co-founder Nikos Ridge is back at the helm as CEO of the Eugene, Oregon-based craft brewery after just one year away from the position.

In a press release issued last Friday, the company said Cheryl Collins, who took over as CEO of the company last May, would step down from the post on June 18.

Speaking to Brewbound, Ridge cited marketplace uncertainty and a yearning to return to a more entrepreneurial-minded decision-making process as the key drivers behind the latest shakeup.

“I think our hypothesis at the time was that what it would take to transition the company was a stronger focus on getting more structured and deepening our capabilities internally,” he said.

Oddly enough, when Ridge stepped down from the CEO role last year, he admitted that he gets “distracted easily,” and said the company needed a leader who wasn’t “entrepreneurial-orientated.”

“As much as I was trying to step away, it wasn’t as effective,” he told Brewbound. “So it will be good to get that direct connection back.”

Ridge, who co-founded the company with brewmaster Jamie Floyd in 2006, will oversee day-to-day operations for the foreseeable future and does not plan to search for another CEO, he said.

“It is hard to make an effective transition from a founder to a new CEO if the industry is unstable,” Ridge added. “That is probably something that, in retrospect, we didn’t pay enough attention to.

“It is really hard to leave something that you have a strong connection and attachment to, and with the industry the way it is, it is important that I reconnect,” he added.

When she departs in June, Collins — who joined Ninkasi in 2012 as the vice president of organizational development, and was later appointed to the “chief people officer” and chief operating officer positions – will continue to serve as a consultant to “ensure a smooth transition for the brewery’s customers, partners and community,” a press release noted.

Ninkasi credited Collins with leading “a company-wide initiative to launch Ninkasi in cans for the first time.”

“She did a great job stewarding the company during her time here,” Ridge told Brewbound. “We made some great progress.”

During Collins’ time with the company, sales of Ninkasi beer grew from 68,000 barrels to nearly 100,000. But as CEO, sales dipped about 7 percent, to roughly 92,000 barrels.

To help address those declines, the company hired former Bell’s Brewery director of sales, Marty Compton, as its new director of sales in March.

At the time of that announcement, Collins said Compton would be tasked with helping to develop the company’s long-term strategy for curbing sales declines.

“We are looking at what is going on in the market and trying to figure out how we are going to adapt to that,” she said in March.

Ridge, who grabbed headlines last week for his response to Pete Coors’ open letter to the Brewers Association, said that while he’s returning to the role he vacated just one year ago, he’s coming back with a fresh perspective.

“I started the brewery with Jamie when I was 25,” he said. “You end up having a lot of responsibilities that you assume over time, and those get institutionalized. It is not the optimum way to be structured. Coming back after a year away, having shifted a lot of those responsibilities to other people, allows me to focus on important, higher-level stuff without getting too bogged down.”

Last November, Ridge, and Collins joined the Brewbound Session to share how the company had evolved and professionalized as it grew to become a top-50 U.S. craft brewery.

During that conversation, Collins discussed her first seven months as CEO, noting that she was “very methodical” about how she spent her time.

“Being a CEO is pretty much the one job in the organization where you have that external outlook on what is going on, and it is your role to bring it inside to within the organization, but you still have demands from within the organization,” she said.

Collins is the latest high-profile brewery executive to depart shortly after taking over as CEO from a founder.

In April, Bell’s Brewery announced that co-owner Laura Bell would depart to “explore other passions and interests” after just 15 months at the helm.

In 2016, Christine Perich, who succeeded New Belgium co-founder Kim Jordan as CEO, departed the company after just one year in the position.

Also in 2016, former Dogfish Head CEO Nick Benz left after just two years in the role, turning it back over to founder Sam Calagione in the process.

Ninkasi’s press release with additional information is below.

Cheryl Collins to Depart Ninkasi Brewing Company

EUGENE, Ore. — May 11, 2018 — Ninkasi Brewing Company CEO, Cheryl Collins, has announced today that she will step down, effective June 18, 2018. Co-founder and president, Nikos Ridge, will return to Ninkasi as CEO, directly managing day-to-day operations of the company moving forward.

Joining Ninkasi in 2012, Collins began her career at the brewery as VP of organizational development, later moving to the role of chief people officer, chief operational officer, and finally, CEO in March 2017.

“It’s been an honor and privilege to have served the Ninkasi team and I’m incredibly proud of what we accomplished during my tenure as CEO,” states Cheryl Collins. “I have the utmost confidence that the leadership team will serve the company well.”

“We are incredibly appreciative of all Cheryl has done to build Ninkasi,” says Nikos Ridge, Ninkasi co-founder. “I look forward to getting back into the day-to-day of continuing to make Ninkasi a key player in the future of the craft beer industry.”

During Collins’ time at Ninkasi, she was instrumental in leading Continuous Improvement methodologies and safety initiatives across brewery functions. In her role as CEO, Collins’ continued to position Ninkasi as one of the top 50 craft breweries in the United States and led a company-wide initiative to launch Ninkasi in cans for the first time.

After June 18, Collins will serve in a consulting role for Ninkasi to ensure a smooth transition for the brewery’s customers, partners, and community. “This transition speaks to the collaborative nature of our company leadership and I appreciate Cheryl’s guidance in reaching this point,” says Ridge.

About Ninkasi Brewing Company

Founded in 2006 by Jamie Floyd and Nikos Ridge, Ninkasi Brewing Company continues to grow from its first batch of Total Domination IPA to the 33rd largest craft brewery in the United States. Independently owned and operated in Eugene, Ore., Ninkasi’s Flagship beers include Total Domination IPA, Tricerahops Double IPA, Dawn of the Red IPA, Hop Cooler Citrus IPA, Prismatic Juicy IPA, Pacific Rain Northwest Pale, Yours Truly Easy-Drinking Ale, Helles Belles Helles Lager, and Vanilla Oatis Oatmeal Stout. Ninkasi beers are sold throughout Alaska; Alberta; Arizona; California; Colorado; Idaho; Maryland; Nevada; New York; Oregon; Utah; Washington; Virginia; and Vancouver, British Columbia. Committed to community support and giving, Ninkasi’s Beer Is Love program offers donations to 501(c)(3) organizations throughout its footprint. For more information, call 541.344.2739 or visit www.NinkasiBrewing.com.

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