As co-founder and chairman of The Brooklyn Brewery, Steve Hindy ’71, MAT ’75, has helped to galvanize the American craft beer movement. Started in 1987 with Hindy’s then-neighbor, Tom Potter, Brooklyn Brewery has become a borough icon and a top name in American craft beer brewing.
What does your business do, and what problem does it solve?
We make flavorful beers in a rainbow of styles. Brooklyn Brewery is among the pioneers that have transformed the US beer industry. Americans are drinking less beer today, but they are drinking better beer, and they are much more aware of the style and flavor.
How did you get the idea for your business?
For the first 15 years of my working life, I was a journalist. I started at a daily newspaper in Geneva, NY, and ended as the Middle East Correspondent for The Association Press, from 1979 to 1984. I covered wars in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Sudan. I was sitting behind Egyptian President Anwar Sadat when he was assassinated. While I was in the Middle East, I met American diplomats who had worked in Saudi Arabia, where Islamic law prohibits alcoholic beverages. They were avid homebrewers, and their beer was amazing. I learned that you can make beer in your kitchen. When I returned to NYC, I started brewing at home. That was the beginning of The Brooklyn Brewery.
Entrepreneurship is all about taking calculated risks. What’s the most pivotal risk you’ve taken, and how did it change your path?
At 39, I gave up my job at Newsday and started the brewery. I had a mortgage, a wife and two children. It was rough going for about eight years. My business partner and I skipped paychecks for many months. We blew up our credit cards. But the brewery prospered, we paid our debts, and we now sell our beers all over the world.
How has your experience at Cornell impacted how you approach business?
When I went to Cornell, I wanted to design golf courses. The most famous golf course architect, Robert Trent Jones, was a Cornell grad. I played on the golf team my freshman year. I had a 2 handicap on the golf course, but my GPA that year was 1.9. I ended up pursuing my real dream, to be a writer, and I earned a master’s degree in English education. Cornell gave me the confidence to go in a totally different direction than the one I had envisioned after high school. The choices at Cornell are endless.
Was there a particular faculty member or class that influenced you the most? If so, how?
My freshman English teacher, Dan McCall, was deeply passionate about writing and about the importance of literature to our culture. McCall was an accomplished novelist and a very demanding teacher. Isabel Peard, an education professor, gave me the confidence to go for a degree in English literature and to become a writer myself. I have written a couple of books, “Beer School: Bottling Success at the Brooklyn Brewery” and “The Craft Beer Revolution.”
What has been your proudest moment as an entrepreneur? Why?
My proudest moment was the day I handed out checks to my original investors. That was in 2003. But to this day, I find it thrilling to see people ordering our beers at bars and restaurants. Brooklyn Brewery is the biggest exporter of American craft beer, so it is especially exciting to see people ordering our beer in Stockholm, Paris, London, Tokyo or Melbourne. Last year, I had the honor of speaking to Cornell students along with the CEO of our partner in Japan, the Kirin Brewery Company. Kirin CEO Yoshinori Isozaki is also a Cornell grad.
Who or what inspires you?
I have had the honor of working with a great designer, Milton Glaser, for over 30 years. Milton is most famous for the “I Love NY” logo, but he also founded New York Magazine and has created many other iconic works of art. He designed the covers of the Penguin Shakespeare series and the Herman Hesse novels when I was at Cornell. He also did that memorable poster of Bob Dylan with psychedelic hair. Milton has encouraged me to believe in myself and my ideas. At 89, he is still going to work every day. He says his biggest fear is retirement. I think I agree.
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
I encourage anyone with a dream to go for it. Understand that it will not be easy for you or the people you love. Many ventures fail, but I know many entrepreneurs who have succeeded on their second or third try. When I started Brooklyn Brewery in 1987, there were few universities with entrepreneurship programs. Today, entrepreneurship is a popular course of study at most business schools, and is even taught in many undergraduate programs and at some high schools. It’s great to see that entrepreneurship has gone mainstream.
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This interview was conducted by Savannah Whiting of Cornell Strategic Communications.