How did you become a salesman?
I thought selling was like something Willy Loman did in that really depressing play. It wasn't anything that I aspired to. When I put cold beer in my briefcase 31 years ago and had to go call on bars in Boston, I was scared to death. I didn't want to get out of bed the first day. But I had the best sales incentive ever: I was recently divorced, and if I didn't sell beer, I couldn't make my alimony and I was going to jail.
What's your hiring philosophy?
We've had jobs that have been open for as long as a year and a half, looking for the right person. The simple rule is, never hire somebody who doesn't raise the average. If they aren't improving your company, then why would you hire that person? My worst mistakes have been what I think of as desperation hires--you have an open position, you really need somebody to fill it, and you end up taking the best of the people that you've seen. And that's almost always a mistake that costs you a lot of time and money to undo.
What's your advice for developing new products?
The fundamental thing is starting small. Most of our beers started small, and a lot of them have stayed small. We will continue to make them as long as they're selling rapidly enough to keep them fresh on the shelf. But if they hit their expiration date, the distributors have to take them out of the market. We spend roughly $5 million a year destroying Sam Adams that has passed its freshness state.
You took the company public in 1995, though you've retained control of all the voting shares. Did you ever consider selling it instead?
No. I like what I'm doing. And I thought, "Gee, what if I had all this money all of a sudden. What would I wanna do? Well, I'd like to own a beer company." I already own a beer company, so why the hell would I sell it?