Paul Janicki’s Transition to Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

As competition increases and consumer behavior changes, craft breweries with strong strategic vision will rise to the top. At Sierra Nevada, Paul Janicki is applying a unique mix of experience and expertise to support the growing national brand.

Paul Janicki developed a passion for a good lager while trying his hand at home-brewing. So, after amassing expertise in finance, business, and operations at Fortune 50 corporations, mid-cap private companies, and start-ups, Janicki jumped at the chance to apply his skills to one of his favorite industries. Today, he’s the chief financial officer (CFO) of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., where he’s helping the leading national brewery execute an aggressive growth plan. It’s a serious task within a fun job—one that his son proudly talks about with his friends.

Janicki grew up near Buffalo, New York, graduated at the top of his class at a Jesuit high school, earned two engineering degrees from Northwestern University in four years, and completed an MBA in finance. He met his wife in Dow Chemical Company’s future leaders program, and was recruited as an executive on loan to Destec Energy to create a world-class financial organization for the $1 billion post-IPO company. After progressive positions with Dow, he was recruited by Roquette America Inc. in 2005 to be its CFO.

Over eight years, he helped the $600-million, 625-employee company achieve an average 13 percent annual growth rate and reduced its overall debt by $150 million. He also formed a sales-and-distribution business in Mexico, established an enterprise risk management program and internal audit function, negotiated $14 million in government-backed tax credit financing, and led union contract negotiations. In short, Janicki was at the top of his game.

But after the first three decades of his career, Janicki was looking for something different. “New graduates have to learn to apply knowledge and develop experience,” he says. “But later, you can leverage that experience and be a bit more selective about your career.” Janicki turned his job hunt on its head. Instead of looking for the right paycheck, he was looking for the right workplace.

Wineries and breweries were at the top of Janicki’s list, but as national brands bought small and medium breweries, CFO opportunities in the US alcoholic-beverage industry became rare. After months of searching, Janicki was ready to expand his search to other industries, when he heard that Sierra Nevada had an opening. He ended up landing an interview. “Once they knew I had the knowledge and skills, it became about fit and chemistry,” Janicki says, adding that he was attracted to Sierra Nevada’s private, family-owned structure.

Fellow home-brewers Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi started the company in 1979. Today, Sierra Nevada is one of the most popular US craft beer companies. In 2015, the company earned about $300 million by producing and selling the equivalent of more than 400 million twelve-ounce beers. Its extensive line includes Pale Ale, Torpedo, Hop Hunter IPA, Nooner Pilsner, Otra Vez, Kellerweis, Porter, Stout, and several seasonal, specialty, and limited-release beers.

Grossman bought out Camusi in 1998, and the company remains family-owned. Janicki says the structure affords him the opportunity to influence decisions, as Grossman and other leaders can afford to take a long-term strategic view. This is seen most clearly in Sierra Nevada’s decision to supplement its production facility in Chico, California, with a second shop in Mills River, North Carolina.

Before Janicki’s arrival, company leaders realized they were selling more beer than they could produce with just one plant. They needed additional capacity, and since beer is expensive to ship, they wanted to position a second facility on the East Coast. Janicki stepped in as CFO with Mills River under construction. Right away, he knew a big part of his success would lie in helping the new multisite production company understand and optimize operations on an enterprise level to reap the full rewards of the high-growth and dynamic craft beer market.

It was an exciting time for Sierra Nevada. The craft beer market was changing, and the company was keeping pace. But to succeed, its CFO would have to help the company deal with the new complexities of running two sites. “Today’s CFO must provide the analysis, insights, and recommendations to both optimize and grow the business—managing complex problems both at the strategic and tactical level to drive value, manage risks proactively, and help the company achieve its objectives,” Janicki says.

If Janicki and Sierra Nevada can execute on the plan, the growing company will reach new heights. Today, there are more than 4,400 breweries in the United States, with more added every day. With more choice than ever before, beer enthusiasts value variety over brand loyalty. That could bode well for Sierra Nevada, based on the company’s reputation for high-quality craft beer. “We want people to try our beers and understand we make a wide variety,” he explains. Sierra Nevada may be best known for Pale Ale, but the brewery offers several other varieties and many limited releases.

The new environment puts every brewery under pressure to innovate. As CFO, Janicki works to provide accurate and timely information so that the company can make sound business decisions and manage risk within the framework of the organization. To support and sustain a multi-site production model, Janicki implemented a hybrid procurement model in order to balance the efficiencies of leveraged volumes and negotiations with disbursed strong technical knowledge. 

Janicki’s team helped support the launch of Sierra Nevada’s new Otra Vez brand by analyzing and reporting on all associated production and marketing costs. “We value innovation, but there are many steps between innovation and having a commercially viable product, and my team is there to help connect the dots between those steps,” he explains. Otra Vez is a unique beer that requires an unusual production environment, specialized equipment, and a distinctive process. Janicki and his colleagues compared costs and determined that, in order to maximize profits, they should produce the beer in both Sierra Nevada production facilities.

In addition to the primary brewing business, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. also runs various retail operations. The facility at Mills River—which some have described as the “Disneyland of Beer”—includes a tap room, gift store, amphitheater, and outdoor patio. In addition to production, Janicki’s financial team must support those running restaurants, tasting rooms, gift stores, brewery tours, concerts, and other events. While the business and financial operation of these endeavors differ greatly from the brewing business, the overall objective remains the same: to provide the consumer with a high-quality experience.

Janicki’s engineering background brings a strength in critical thinking with a deep understanding of operations. He’s able to pinpoint issues, trace them back to their origins, and help fix problems before they escalate.

With Mills River functional and new brands out to market, Janicki is working to optimize operations, define target markets for expansion, and coordinate across the enterprise to enable critical business thinking and flexibility. He’s also identifying and developing strong internal talent. “A CFO is just one person,” Janicki says. “He or she must leverage their skilled staff to be truly effective.” This lets Sierra Nevada’s finance team handle more responsibilities without additional personnel, and the company can redirect resources to quality and production efforts. And that means better beer. And better beer means happier customers.