The College of New Jersey continued its tradition of having beneficial guest speakers address the students. On Wednesday, Professor Carla Fallon's Management 381 class about entrepreneurship hosted Chris Walsh, majority owner of Ewing, NJ's RiverHorse Brewery, for the second strait semester.
Walsh addressed members of the class, members of the Entrepreneurship Club, and other students interested Entrepreneurship and RiverHorse, about his journey from investment banking to negotiating with Bruce Springsteen about using Springsteen's lyrics and images in their marketing gimmicks all the way to saving a brewery in decline.
Students were able to take in a variety of messages and lessons as they listened to Walsh's experiences. All of his lessons were of great importance, but one message stood out above all (at least in my opinion) and that is that Walsh was not a founder of the RiverHorse Brewery, and he has not been involved in any sort of start up business. Despite all of this he is still considered to be an entrepreneur. Walsh exemplifies a different meaning to entrepreneurism, and reminds students that they can still pursue entrepreneurism even if they do not have a great innovative start up business idea.
Students were able to learn the importance of getting important corporate experience at a young age. Upon being asked if it is wise to pursue entrepreneurism immediately following college, Walsh warned, "I would not recommend that at all, you have no experience, you have no capital." After splitting four years of undergraduate studies between the University of Massachusetts and the University of Delaware and earning an MBA at Widener University, Walsh, himself worked for 7 years at a Philadelphia based firm called BERWIND.
Spending his time doing distressed investment banking, Walsh was able to gain valuable hands on experience that would later help him revive RiverHorse Brewery. He eventually acquired the firm from the family that owned it before he sold it to the National City Bank in Cleveland.
Other lessons students were able to learn from Walsh include the personal and social struggles that arise from owning a business. Currently, he is going through a divorce and he referenced the brewery as the catalyst.
"If you have a really good idea, don't get married," Walsh joked with his audience.
In regards to balancing personal and work lives, Walsh says, "There is no line, the business becomes your personal life." He says that he has learned to live without a lot of sleep. Looking back he said that everything was worth it in the end, but he warns that divorce is not a guaranteed fate for an entrepreneur. Upon acquiring the brewery in 2007, it was on the verge of bankruptcy, and all of the risk, effort, and dedication that Walsh and his partner Glen put in to the brewery was absolutely necessary in order to salvage the dying business.
Salvage the business is an understatement for what Walsh and his partner were able to do with RiverHorse. The duo purchased a company that was only producing 2,000 barrels (4,000 half kegs) a year. In just under ten years they have increased production by five times the amount, producing 10,000 barrels (20,000 half kegs) last year!
Originally, Walsh and Glen tried to get the brand out there, distributing from Boston, Massachusetts all the way down to Virginia. Now that they have resurrected the brand they have created a more focused market hitting Western Connecticut, Eastern Pennsylvania, all of New Jersey, and the five boroughs of New York. They have also managed to throw at least 4-5 different brews on the shelves of most local liquor stores with number still remaining at 3 per store at further locations within the market.
A few other tips that Chris Walsh left for anyone looking to enter the entrepreneurism field include:
1. Travel the world if possible because seeing the rest of the world allows it to shrink for you and increase opportunities to run a business easier and smoother
2. Do not assume that people think the same way as you because that will lead to tons of miscommunication and chaos in the business
3. Taking a bell curve model and applying it to life can lead you to realize that most people are average, and that being average means you are ahead of 50% of the game
4. Make sure you hire professionals that will have a positive impact on the business you are running
If you want to learn more about the RiverHorse Brewery, check out their website about future tour dates at http://www.riverhorse.com. **Must be 21 to attend tours**