Takeaways from Like A Boss with Jenn Lever, president of Baxter Brewing

On Oct. 19, Publisher Lisa DeSisto sat down at the Roux Institute with Jenn Lever, president of Baxter Brewing, to pick her brain about leadership. Here are some takeaways from that conversation:

Nurture your competitive nature. Lever says as a high school athlete, she learned the value of time management, camaraderie and teamwork. She also was class president of her high school for four years, an acknowledgment that she knew at a young age that she wanted to be involved in achieving things, not watching from the sidelines.

Work an internship. While a student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, she had a great intern experience at Cintas where she realized she loves business operations and manufacturing. The experience helped her land a job offer from Pepsi when she graduated.

Challenge company culture. In her early 20s, Lever was hired as a warehouse supervisor at a unionized Pepsi plant where she was the first female manager to last longer than a year. She challenged company culture, where the average worker had a tenure of 17 years, gaining the respect of her team. She said the experience shaped much of who she is today and what she’s accomplished.

Track and measure your pillars of success: The company’s four pillars of success are personal safety, food safety, quality experience and continuous improvement. Those four pillars guide decision-making, not only with respect to products, but also to creating a good work environment.

Always assess: The company constantly assesses where to emphasize product consumption – consumers can purchase their own beer and take it home from the grocery or convenience store; or people can order it at a restaurant or bar in draft or cans. Currently Baxter sees 32 percent of its beer consumed on premise, and the rest is off premise.

Stay open to innovation and market opportunities. The company wanted to offer an alternative to corn-based American lagers (think Bud Light or Mic Ultra) and started a research process that led to its Lager Road. Although widely considered a product of the pandemic, Staycation was actually in the works in 2019. Coastal Haze was born of a desire to offer a mid-level beer in Baxter variety packs.

Ask ‘What can we solve for?’  Mainers’ beer tastes vary. In southern Maine, Staycation is the No. 2 bestseller. In northern Maine, they love Lager Road. So understanding market variations and how you can identify and fill a need will keep consumers driving innovation.

Embrace your differences and your personal story. Baxter is produced in an old, beautiful textile mill in Lewiston. It has no tasting room presence in Portland, where foot traffic among dozens of breweries drives a lot of sales. “We keep focusing on improving what we have to offer and our releases.”

Do what it takes to support your team. If you can’t support what people do outside of work (family, sports, hobbies, etc.) than they can’t see the ability to work long term for you. On the job, invest in things that make doing the work easier.

Tips for other women working in a male-dominated field? It’s important to find allies to whom you can ask uncomfortable questions and trust. Also, be forgiving to yourself and understand you’ll make mistakes along the way.

Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Having a sociology and economics degree made Lever stand out in manufacturing where nearly all her peers had engineering degrees. She learned to lean into what she did know and not be afraid to acknowledge what she didn’t. But, she said, once you are comfortable in a role, it’s time to start thinking of what’s next so you stay challenged.

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