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26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs: Fritz Maytag

for staging an elegant comeback
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Fritz Maytag Anchor Brewing

for setting limits

He invented what later became known as microbrewing. Without his Anchor Steam Beer and its brother brews, we beer lovers might have been consigned to choosing between Budweiser, Miller, and Coors.

Instead we have a cornucopia of the finest brews available anywhere in the world, except maybe Belgium. And Fritz Maytag led the way.

A young Stanford grad living in San Francisco in the mid-1960s, Maytag often enjoyed a glass of the 109-year-old local brew, Anchor Steam. One day he heard that the brewery was closing. He paid a visit, fell in love, and, in September 1965, bought a 51% stake in the business. Three years later, he bought the rest of the company. The whole shebang, he says, cost about as much as a used car.

At the time, Maytag -- an heir to the washing machine fortune -- knew nothing about beer-making or business. "You know books like So You Want to Have a Puppy?" he says. "I bought So You Want to Learn Accounting." Even to a novice, however, it was obvious that the company was sinking fast. Maytag soon learned why: Restaurant and bar owners complained that the beer frequently spoiled before they could sell it. So Maytag tinkered with the brewing process and the recipe, coming up with a new, improved Anchor Steam Beer that debuted in its bottled form in 1971. It was an instant success.

Within four years, the brewery had maxed out its production capacity. Soon thereafter, Maytag was forced to ration the number of cases distributors could buy. He remembers the next few years as a nightmare. Customers were beating down his door, and there was simply no way he could satisfy the demand. He desperately looked for a new site, but he limited himself to locations in San Francisco out of respect for the historical connection between the city and the beer. Finally he found an old coffee roastery, where the brewery moved in 1979. Maytag vowed he would never go through rationing again.

But the popularity of Anchor Brewing's beers continued to grow. By the early 1990s, Maytag was facing the real possibility of another capacity shortage. He considered going public to raise capital, but rejected the idea because he didn't want the kind of growth he would have to pursue if he took on investors. Size, he believed, was the enemy of quality. "This was not going to become a giant company -- not on my watch," he says.

In the end, oddly enough, Maytag was saved by his competitors. Microbrewing was gaining popularity, and hundreds of small breweries were springing up around the country. Rather than resist them, Maytag helped fledgling rivals develop their brewing skills. They wound up growing fast enough that Anchor Brewing was able to avoid a second capacity crisis altogether.

"It was a great relief," says Maytag, now 67. "It's not any fun when you can't produce enough to satisfy people. What if you had a pizza store with 100 customers outside waiting in line, getting angry, fighting, threatening? In business school they say, 'Raise your prices.' Not in the real world. You get a backlash if you raise prices too much. You lose your validity. Luckily, we didn't have to go through that again."

Rare is the entrepreneur who feels lucky that his competitors' sales have diminished the demand for his product. But perhaps rarer still is the entrepreneur who can resist the pressures and temptations of growth and focus instead on creating what he really wants: a gem of a business.

Bo Burlingham

26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs

  1. Martha Stewart, Martha Stewart Omnimedia
    because she took one for the team
  2. Richard Branson, Virgin Group
    because he's game for anything. In fact, everything.
  3. Michael Dell, Dell Computer
    for being brilliantly straightforward
  4. Jim Sinegal, Costco
    because who knew a big-box chain could have a generous soul?
  5. Diane von Furstenberg, Diane von Furstenberg Studio
    for staging an elegant comeback
  6. Julie Azuma, Different Roads to Learning
    for offering hope and help to the parents of autistic children
  7. Fritz Maytag, Anchor Brewing
    for setting limits
  8. Ray Kurzweil, Kurzweil Technologies and other companies
    because he is Edison's rightful heir
  9. Craig Newmark, Craigslist
    for putting the free in free markets
  10. Jack Mitchell, Mitchells/Richards
    because his family business makes an art of customer service
  11. Frank Robinson, Robinson Helicopter
    for whipping an entire industry into shape
  12. Mark Melton, Melton Franchise Systems
    for giving immigrants their shot at the American Dream
  13. Michelle Cardinal & Tim O'Leary, Cmedia and Respond2
    for rewriting the rules for husband-and-wife teams
  14. Mike Lazaridis, Research in Motion
    because someone had to stand up for all those frustrated engineers
  15. Trip Hawkins, Electronics Arts and Digital Chocolate
    for still scrapping
  16. Warren Brown, Cake Love and Love Cafe
    because only in America will someone quit a secure job as a lawyer to start a bakery
  17. Muriel Siebert, Muriel Siebert & Co.
    for being a notable first with a worthy second act
  18. Chuck Porter, Crispin, Porter + Bogusky
    for verging on reckless
  19. Katrina Markoff, Vosges Haut
    for setting a completely unreasonable goal for her business
  20. Barry Steinberg & Craig Sumerel, Direct Tire and Auto Service
    for showing the power of the peer group
  21. Victoria Parham, Virtual Support Services
    for serving as a mentor to military spouses
  22. Tom LaTour, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants
    for staying at fleabag hotels so that we don't have to
  23. Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams, Mitchell Gold
    for creating a true comfort zone
  24. Izzy & Coco Tihanyi, Surf Diva
    for kicking sand in the face of conventional wisdom
  25. Tony Lee, Ring Masters
    for saving 16 jobs, including his own
  26. Rueben Martinez, Libreria Martinez Books and Art Galleries
    for simultaneously building a business and nurturing Latino culture
Last updated: Apr 1, 2005




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