An inside look at the Deschutes Brewing corporate culture

By John Carlin - Anchor
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It's hard for most people to imagine a job where employees sit around after their shift sipping a cold one on the company, yet that's the way many of the workers at Deschutes Brewery complete their days.  And even if it weren't for the craft beer, you get the impression they would be smiling just as much and be just as happy.

Digital Marketing Manager Jason Randles has worked at Deschutes for 17 years.  "We work in a brewery and we live in Bend Oregon, if you're not happy, I don't know, something's wrong," he told me as we mountain biked along a gorgeous stretch of the Deschutes River.

That's sort of what anyone would think, right?  Live in a city that feels like a playground and work at a place that produces a product synonymous with parties and good times.  What's not to like?

But clearly there's more to it than that.  There is something about the company's demeanor that has its employees so enthusiastic they voluntarily wear branded clothing from the company store -- like every day. It's as if each of them is a proud Deschutes ambassador.

It might be because all of the employees are co-owners, meaning each owns a small stake in the company through the ESOP program.  "And because of that," says Randles, "one of our core values is to ‘own it' as we all feel a sense of ownership and that our actions make a direct impact on the company."

But lots of companies have profit-sharing programs, and I'd wager a beer their folks aren't as chipper as the ones in Bend.

It goes to the core of the company's deportment, and it starts with founder and CEO Gary Fish.

"If we can celebrate the art in our beer that should carry over to the place that we work. The places we bring our friends. And the way that we celebrate the culture, which is another one of our core values," he said.

The company has something called the "culture club." Not to be confused with Boy George's pop band from the 80s. This club, made up of employees, helps dictate the way things are at Deschutes.

"That culture club was really responsible for trying to put into words what is the culture of Deshutes Brewing. And that something we all like to talk about, ‘culture' but let me tell me you, it's a very difficult thing to do," admits Fish.

Deschutes gives more than lip service to the feeling of inclusiveness so many companies either aspire to or at least try to convince their employees they are doing.  For instance, beer tasting.  A cross-section of employees from various departments to top-level executives have been trained to taste the subtle attributes of the company's brews.  Together they go through regular taste testing of the product.  If it doesn't pass muster, it goes down the drain.

"We've dumped thousands and thousands and thousands of gallons down the drain over the years," said Fish.

The culture club was instrumental in deciding which east coast city would become home to Deschutes' operations on this side of the Mississippi.  The company wasn't merely going through the motions, seeking employee buy in. Club members visited the finalist cities and voted on their favorite.

Thankfully, they chose Roanoke.

"We came down to the top three and then we just took some people from our organization who are part of our culture club and that's the group that makes sure that we maintain our culture -- and that we can establish our culture on the East Coast. So it was important for them to visit. They came out, look at the different properties and came back to Bend, and as a group we basically made a decision," said company president Michael LaLonde.

LaLonde said it's important that that same, happy, effective culture transfers from Bend to Roanoke.

"So hence the culture club. They keep us focused on what we need to do, how to drive our culture and get better all the time. Like I said, replicated over in Roanoke it's not gonna be exactly the same, but you want to have same vision, values, feel over there," he said.

"If you can do something that's innovative, that makes people happy, that makes you happy and pay the rent well that's the best of all worlds," said Fish.

Clearly Fish, LaLonde and the rest of the leadership team have figured out a way to saturate their team with that elusive go get ‘em attitude that so many companies try to instill.

Too bad they can't bottle it.

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