Before Selling Her Craft Beer Business to a Beverage Giant, She Sold It to Employees

a woman smiling for the camera: Kim Jordan, co-founder of New Belgium Brewing.

© Matt Nager
Kim Jordan, co-founder of New Belgium Brewing.

In 2019, Kim Jordan sold New Belgium Brewing–after spending years distributing equity to every member of her staff.

Editor’s note: The story of New Belgium Brewing’s sale is part of a series on Inc. 5000 companies making a big exit. The other articles in the series describe the exit strategies of two other companies: Home Chef and Nutanix.

  • Humble Beginnings: Jordan co-founded New Belgium Brewing in 1991 with her then-husband, Jeff Lebesch, who ran a homebrew operation out of their Fort Collins, Colorado, kitchen.

  • A Business Role Model: New Belgium, an Inc. 5000 honoree in 2010 (No. 3,482) and 2013 (No. 4,804), began sharing equity with staff in 1996; it became 100 percent employee-owned in 2012 and a certified B Corp in 2013.

  • Cheers: Lion Little World Beverages, a subsidiary of Japanese beverage giant Kirin, acquired New Belgium in 2019 for an undisclosed sum.

Why did you decide to sell New Belgium to employees in 2012?

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In America, the gap between the haves and the have-nots continues to widen, and as we were building value in New Belgium, it was important to me that everyone in the organization got to realize a part of that value. Full employee ownership felt like the best capitalization strategy and the one most consistent with what mattered to me. So that’s how we got to 100 percent.


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How did talks with Lion Little World Beverages begin?

Its board was in the U.S. and asked if we could all get together. We felt like the strategic buyer landscape was changing and that there were only going to be so many opportunities.

What about the claim that craft beer is on the decline? Did that influence the decision to sell?

That’s cynical. There are other factors at play. From 2016 to 2019, we went from about 5,500 craft breweries in the U.S. to about 8,500, so the competitive landscape has really exploded. There’s just a time as a founder to be thinking about your own liquidity and exit strategy. I’m thankful this was the choice we made.

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