A return to roots: New Belgium CEO talks Fort Collins, female leadership, future

Erik Petrovich

Having been born, raised, educated and engrossed in Fort Collins her entire life, working for one of the city’s favorite craft beer companies only seemed natural for Christine Perich.

Despite spending most of her professional career in financial and analytical jobs, Perich never saw herself becoming the CEO of the nation’s eighth largest brewery. (Photo Credit: New Belgium Brewing co.)
Despite spending most of her professional career in financial and analytical jobs, Perich never saw herself becoming the CEO of the nation’s eighth-largest brewery. (Photo courtesy of New Belgium Brewing Co.)

One month ago, on Oct. 9, Perich became the CEO and president of New Belgium Brewing Company after more than 15 years working there in various roles. She took over for company co-founder Kim Jordan, who now chairs the company’s board of directors.

Ad

Despite spending most of her professional career in financial and analytical jobs, Perich never saw herself becoming the CEO of the nation’s eighth-largest brewery.

Born, Raised and Educated

“I always joke that I made it as far as Denver, and then I just got sucked back in,” Perich said.

Perich graduated from Colorado State University in 1992 with a degree in business administration. She is now sitting on the College of Business Global Leadership Counsel and oversees New Belgium’s involvement with CSU in the fermentation science program, along with the company’s head brewmaster.

She did not always stay in Fort Collins, though. After graduating from CSU, Perich chased accounting jobs in Cheyenne, Denver and Boulder before joining New Belgium as a financial controller in 2000 and settling back into her familiar Fort Collins community.

Perich said the main reason she decided to settle in Fort Collins was because of her family.

“I love to travel, but there are only a couple places that I could consider living in,” Perich said. “In terms of living out day-to-day life, Fort Collins is hard to beat.”

Bryan Simpson, public relations director for New Belgium, said he has been working with Perich since she began with the company. 

“Christine has always been a leader at New Belgium, so she’s transitioned very naturally into the role of CEO,” Simpson said. “As to style, she’s her own person — open, intellectually curious, focused and driven. It’s like everything you want in a CEO, plus she’s fun to have a beer with.”

Female Business Leader

Ad

As a member of the Global Leadership Counsel, Perich said she is hoping to help set up programs for students looking to become professional business leaders. Coming out of college, Perich said she had no idea she would reach the level she stands at today.

“It felt natural — I didn’t come out of college and say, ‘I want to be a CEO,'” Perich said. “For me, I wanted to be a mom, I wanted to spend time with my family, I wanted to do interesting work and I think that the best part of me being here is that I didn’t have to choose.”

If you do run into these issues, you have to fight them. You owe it to yourself and every woman that is gonna come after you to push through.
Christine Perich, CEO of New Belgium Brewing

According to the New Belgium website, the company only distributed to seven states and produced just over 150,000 barrels of beer per year when Perich joined in 2000. During her 15 years at the company in various financial roles, Perich oversaw its massive expansion. New Belgium now produces close to one million barrels per year, which are distributed around 39 different states, Canada and Sweden.

A couple enjoys New Belgium beer in the tasting room on a Tuesday afternoon. New Belgium will be opening a new clinic for employees next April. (Photo: Emma Brokaw.)
A couple enjoys New Belgium beer in the tasting room on a Tuesday afternoon. New Belgium will be opening a new clinic for employees next April. (Photo credit: Emma Brokaw.)

During all of this, Perich said she did not feel discriminated against because of her gender at New Belgium. While sitting on a panel at CSU almost 12 years ago, Perich said she was humbled by the discussion of female business leaders. Over the years, attitudes have changed for the better, she said, but the issue should not be minimized.

“I was 10 years younger than the other women on the panel, and just that age difference, what they dealt with and what I dealt with, were drastically different,” Perich said. “I think it is important to support one another. It’s very easy to go down a path saying, ‘I didn’t get that promotion because I am a woman.’ Well, maybe you didn’t get that promotion because this guy had more experience than you had.”

A Return to Roots

Perich said that during her time as CEO she would like to focus more on innovation. Recently, New Belgium collaborated with Ben & Jerry’s to create an ice cream-inspired flavor, the Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale. In New Belgium’s beginnings as a craft beer startup, the company experimented every day with new and unique flavors.

“Over the years, innovation gets harder,” Perich said. “I want to be more deliberate about that process so we can continue to be innovative and entrepreneurial and stay true to the core of what we do.”

Part of that innovation may come about from heightened involvement with CSU. Earlier this year, then-CEO Kim Jordan donated $500,000 of her personal fortune to the CSU fermentation science program, and the company itself donated another $500,000, totaling one million dollars in donations to the now two-year-old program.

New Belgium often takes on students as brewery interns, and the fermentation science program is full of students eager to work in the business.

In broad strokes, Kim had to learn trial by fire as an entrepreneur and that takes a skill-set heavy on dreaming big and taking risks. Christine has had 15 years at New Belgium and comes from a financial background, so she knows where we’re heading and has the discipline to get there.

Bryan Simpson, New Belgium Brewing PR Director

Jeff Callaway, director of industry outreach for the fermentation science program, said he only sees the bond between the program and New Belgium growing stronger.

“I see it strengthening and getting deeper in terms of more long-term projects, brewing projects and others,” Callaway said. “I see not only the program, but CSU and New Belgium’s relationship getting deeper and more connected, in terms of research, students getting internships there and more guest lectures.”

(Photo: Caio Pereira.)
(Photo credit: Caio Pereira.)

To stay true to their craft beer roots, the company is putting a big focus on what goes into their production process. It is not about “how you put water through the system,” Perich said, but rather about how to approach the entire process.

During her time as chief operations officer, Perich was key in establishing the 100 percent employee-owned business model that New Belgium strived for since its beginning. New Belgium upper management sold the last of their shares to employees in 2013, getting rid of any corporate ownership of the company.

The company is also constructing an on-site medical facility for its employees, which would reduce the company’s health insurance costs by reducing the amount of ER visits from employees, who would now have a primary doctor.

“For me, it’s a balance of honoring everything that New Belgium is,” Perich said. “There are lots of things I do not want to change. I just bring an analytical side and a profit side to the business.”

Collegian City Beat Reporter Erik Petrovich can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @EAPetrovich.