After three decades, Odell Brewing’s founders — Wynne, Doug and Corkie Odell — plan to exit the brewery’s day-to-day operations starting in January 2020, as part of a planned leadership transition.
The employee-owned, Fort Collins, Colorado-headquartered craft brewery will turn to chief sales and marketing officer Eric “Smitty” Smith as its next chief executive officer.
Smith, a 25-year employee of Odell, has served as co-CEO with Wynne Odell since the start of 2019, and he’ll fully take over the role in January.
When the calendar turns, the Odells will no longer be involved at the operational level but will continue their roles on the brewery’s board of directors.
Speaking to Brewbound, Wynne Odell said the founders would be involved in “just the big stuff,” such as adding a winery, entering new states, and spending on capital improvement projects, among other projects.
“That’s intentional to keep us from diving back into operations because now we have the new team all seated and ready to have their chance at it,” she said.
Additionally, effective August 1, Odell promoted four employees to its leadership team, including J.R. Wheeler as director of sales, Alex Kayne as director of marketing, Kailey Bowser as director of taproom operations and Eli Kolodny as technical director. They join existing executive team members COO Brendan McGivney, CFO Chris Banks and CHRO Jill Scanlon.
Odell had not publicly addressed the leadership changes until today when Smith announced the moves during Brewbound’s Brew Talks event in Denver. The company’s employees were notified of the changes at the start of 2019.
In an interview with Brewbound last month, Smith and Wynne Odell said discussions on the leadership succession plan got serious in 2017 but date back before the company implemented an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) in July 2015.
According to Odell, both the founders and members of the executive team agreed that Smith was the right person to take the reins. She said the time was right to make the change because the founders didn’t want to “die with our boots on” and wanted to give the executive leadership team more control of the company.
“It just got to the point where the balance shifted a couple of years before,” she said. “They were doing all of the heavy lifting. It seemed to make sense that if they’re doing more of the work, they should have the opportunity to have … majority control of it. At some point, you’ve got to plan to walk out unless you plan on dying on the job.”
Although the Odells will exit the daily operations of the brewery, they will retain three seats on the company’s four-member board. Wynne Odell will continue to serve as board chair, which she said will allow her to stay connected to the brewery.
As part of the 2015 ESOP, the three founders would continue to hold board seats until the transaction was complete, while one board seat would be held on a rotating basis by a member of Odell’s executive team. Once the note is paid off, however, the executive team would then hold three seats, while the founders would retain two. The Odell family will remain shareholders of the company in perpetuity.
Although the founding Odell family members will no longer have day-to-day roles in the company starting next year, they will remain employees of the company until June 2020, Odell said. Then, the company will seat an advisory council of yet-to-be named “outside voices” to help the company navigate the next decade or so. Smith said the council’s members should be determined by the end of the year.
For his part, Smith said he and the leadership team will build upon “the legacy that the Odells started” and the company’s commitment to paced growth.
“It’s not going to be one person,” he added. “It’s not going to be my direction. It’s going to be a collective effort of all the co-owners and coworkers that we have here at Odell.”
For three decades, Odell, the 23rd largest craft brewery, has achieved slow and steady growth. In 2018, the company’s production grew slightly, to 126,375 barrels of beer, up from 120,810.
“Over 30 years, we’ve never declined more than 2% in volume, and we’ve only had a decline three years out of 30,” Wynne Odell said. “When I look at what’s happening in the industry as a whole, I think we have always been really good at not freaking out or making really rash moves or starting to bunker down, thinking there is no opportunity.”