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Entrepreneurs / Project Grow

Cheers: How a Tight Knit Group of Fun-Loving Friends Motivates a Beer Pioneer

The founder of Harpoon beer explains how it is the experiences with friends and loved ones that inspired him to open his brewery.
Cheers: How a Tight Knit Group of Fun-Loving Friends Motivates a Beer Pioneer
Image credit: Courtesy of Adam Bailey | Original photograph by Jack Markell
- Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the October 2017 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Back in 1987, we were doing our first bottling run. I had left banking to start a craft brewery, which at that time was unheard of. Not only did we have to make great product, we also had to get people to buy something totally unfamiliar. Everyone back then knew beer as a light-­yellow lager, so if you came up with something amber or hazy, they’d think it had gone bad.

Related: Why Leaders Lean on Friends and Family

It was a stressful time. Adding to the pressure, I was about to get married. One day, a few of the guys stopped the line and asked me to come upstairs. So I did. And when I got up there, they grabbed me and pinned me to the floor. Before I knew it, they got my clothes off and put me in a jumpsuit, complete with an Elvis wig and glasses. They hustled me out of the plant, put me in a car, drove me to Logan Airport, put a plane ticket in my hand and left. It was a ticket to Memphis.

I got on the plane alone and arrived in Memphis to find eight of my best friends waiting for me. It was a surprise bachelor party, and that Elvis outfit stayed on the whole weekend. After Memphis, we piled into a Winnebago loaded with Harpoon beer and drove to my wedding in Chicago. My wife’s mother just loved the Winnebago parked in front of their country club. She also appreciated when my friends publicly presented me with the above photo -- taken in the parking lot at Graceland -- at the rehearsal dinner.

Suffice it to say, the wedding went off without a hitch, and Harpoon became what it is today: a pioneer in the craft-brewing revolution, and a place where friends can gather to enjoy each other’s company. Through it all, that photo has been prominently displayed in my office. It still makes me laugh.

Related: How Your Friends Influence Your Success

When I was thinking of starting a brewery, a lot of what motivated me was the power I saw in beer to bring people together. Whether it was gathered around a table, or at a ball game, or tubing down a river, or standing on the hood of a car in front of Elvis’s house, some of the greatest memories of my life involve drinking beer with my friends. 

Most of the guys in the photo were, or eventually became, investors in Harpoon. They’ve all done amazing things. Most important, though, we’ve all remained close friends. We get the whole gang back together every year or two, and while we’re just shadows of our former selves, we still have an awful lot of fun. I look at that photo and it reminds me of why I do what I do, how lucky I am to do it and why I’m so blessed to have people like that in my life.

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