Storyteller in Chief: Brew Stories

Gary Fish is founder and CEO of Deschutes Brewery
Over the years, many mentors have taught me lessons that have helped shape the way I view the world of work and our business.

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Back in the day:
Gary Fish in the Bend pub,
circa 1990.

Over the years, many mentors have taught me lessons that have helped shape the way I view the world of work and our business.

One such mentor was a woman I worked for when I was fresh out of college. I was living in Salt Lake City, working in the marketing department for a multilevel marketing company. She taught me a great deal about business writing and general survival. Keep in mind, at this time in Salt Lake City, as a single mother of four children with a career and a business, she had learned a great deal about “survival.” Largely, she did it with humor.

She told me about one of her first job interviews, held in a hotel room. In those days, large companies employed different techniques to see how interview candidates managed adversity or unusual situations. In this case, there was a large chair placed on one of the beds. When my friend asked about the chair, she was told, “You are the first candidate to ask about the chair.” Apparently, that was the point: to see who would ask about the chair.

Toward the end of the hour, a woman who was part of the interview team said, “What is your business philosophy?” In her own way, my former boss said, “That’s easy, everybody f*#ks up!” This, of course, ended the interview, but the wisdom of that moment lives on for me. It is true. It also explains how people often take failure all wrong. At Deschutes Brewery, we try and keep this little nugget alive by encouraging people to “fail faster.” We know not every attempt results in success. We want people to learn what they can and move on and do it better the next time.

Another experience that shaped the way I think about work occurred when I was only 16. I was working as a dishwasher at a restaurant. Since it was a new establishment, I was able to advance quickly. I moved into the kitchen as a “gopher.” Part of my responsibility was to back up the line cooks: to provide whatever they needed. I was fast and hard working, traits I picked up from my father.

When the opportunity came to advance to line cook, I assumed I’d be first to get the call. I wasn’t. So I sat down with the owner/manager. This person subsequently became part of the partnership that purchased Dreyer’s Ice Cream in 1974 for $1 million. He explained that working hard was not enough. And that doing what I was asked was not enough either. I needed to anticipate needs and fill those needs without being asked.

Who knew? I met with the lead line cooks and asked for help. They were more than happy to oblige. My performance skyrocketed. So did my peer and management reviews; within a few months, I was promoted to line cook, and a few months after that, lead line cook. I spent the next several years working my way through college as a cook and on to a career in restaurants that continues today, 43 years later. Deschutes Brewery began as a brewpub in downtown Bend and then expanded to a second brewpub location in Portland’s Pearl District a few years ago.

Here are a few other lessons learned. First, take your work very seriously; just don’t take yourself too seriously. One of my pet peeves is when managers describe their departments as “mine,” “my people” or “my department.” Hey, you don’t own those people! Also, don’t be afraid to expose your mistakes and speak about them honestly. Share them in meetings, presentations and casual conversations. It will help others understand that mistakes are an integral part of progress. Finally, business does not operate in the present; it operates in the future. Your job — heck, everybody’s job — is to anticipate what’s coming next and provide it without being asked. If you have to be asked, it’s too late.

The moral of the story? Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t wait to be asked or worry about whether or not it is your job. Do the right thing. Do what needs to be done. Do it now. 

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