CEO: The Evolution of Stone Brewing

When Dominic Engels came to Stone Brewing in 2016 as its new CEO, he encountered a changing beer industry with “a lot of tumult in the craft beer world to come.”

engels1The “whole category was changing,” he said in a talk with members of Sage Executive Group in March at the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station. In rapid fashion, Stone opened a brewery in Berlin, Germany, another in Richmond, Virginia, a tap room in Shanghai, China and another in the Berlin city center, plus a brewery and restaurant in Napa.

His job now is to sustain Stone’s position as the ninth-largest brewery in the United States and to chart its future, which includes “continued growth” and continued innovations on the craft brew front.

Engels succeeded the brewery’s founding CEO, Greg Koch, and works closely with Stone’s co-founder and President Steve Wagner, who is a long-time Sage member. When Engels was hired, Wagner said he was the best ‘cultural fit’ for an iconic craft brewer that has grown from a small warehouse operation in San Marcos in 1996.

Engels detailed how his interest in beer and corporate management developed for the Sage group of about 50 CEOs and other top San Diego-area executives. He recounted his beer “intervention” while at Dartmouth College when he was introduced to craft beer. And described  how he honed his palate and understanding of beer-making while spending four years in Belgium as General Manager for the Wonderful Company with responsibility for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Before coming to Stone, Engels was president of POM Wonderful, responsible for leading the pomegranate business on a global, billion-dollar scale. It was the culmination of working for 11-and-a-half years with Stuart and Linda Reznick of Los Angeles, the “largest working land owners in California.” The pomegranate business evolved from pomegranate grown on their Central Valley almond farms.

In experiencing the challenges of running those businesses and charting new directions for Stone, Engels puts a premium on understanding the big picture while remaining an active, day-to-day presence. “My job is to really make sure I understand the plate tectonics of the world,” he said. “I think about patterns and play back things I heard during the day,” he said. At the same time, “If I’m along in my office, It’s probably a bad thing,” he said.

engels2As for his tenure at Stone, he said he has reached a point where he is prepared to look forward with a fully formed management team in place and he fully realizes his high-profile role at one of the most-watched beer companies in America. “I’m good at being calm on the ball,” he said, using a sports metaphor. “The eyes of the world are on you.”

The event was moderated by Jerry Rollins, CEO of Sage Executive Group, which operates peer advisory groups for CEOs, presidents, and partners, as well as for C-level executives in finance, operations and sales. The Sage process has been developed by leaders who have over 45 years of collective experience with peer advisory groups.