Sharad Chadha of Sprecher Brewery On Becoming Free From The Fear Of Failure

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

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If I listened to everyone who told me how difficult it is to grow a craft beverage company, I would still be commuting to New York as an executive every week. We wouldn’t have expanded this iconic Wisconsin brand that is responsible now for so many new jobs, livelihoods and people enjoying themselves with special moments.

The Fear of Failure is one of the most common restraints that holds people back from pursuing great ideas. Imagine if we could become totally free from the fear of failure. Imagine what we could then manifest and create. In this interview series, we are talking to leaders who can share stories and insights from their experience about “Becoming Free From the Fear of Failure.” As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Sharad Chadha.

Sharad Chadha is the CEO of Sprecher Brewery, a craft beverage company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, best known for Sprecher Root Beer, ranked the best-tasting root beer in the country. Under his leadership, the company has doubled in size and expanded distribution nationally.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

I was born and raised in India as the son of a teacher and a military officer. I came to the states for graduate school, first at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and then at the Kellogg School of Management.

I feel like I was born to be an entrepreneur, even though I spent many years as an executive in large companies including GE and Samsung. I’ve always enjoyed the process of getting outside my comfort zone, learning and growing.

A little more than three years ago, I was at a social event and started talking to the founder of Sprecher Brewery, Randy Sprecher, who was about to retire. I decided then and there to continue the legacy and grow the company.

Sprecher is Wisconsin’s first craft brewery since prohibition, known for the unique fire brewing process, local ingredients such as raw Wisconsin honey and hand-crafted batches. It’s the BEST root beer in the universe, but it wasn’t well known outside of the Midwest. That’s where I really saw growth potential.

Today, I am the CEO and President of Sprecher and proud to see it expanding to nearly 40 states with more on the horizon.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

The COVID-19 pandemic hit only two months after we closed the deal to take over running Sprecher, with our tours, taproom and restaurants all shutting down. I went from riding the high of starting a new entrepreneurial venture to the fear of figuring out how to keep the business afloat. I invested everything our family had into the brewery purchase, and it was all suddenly at risk along with the future of our employees!

The good news is this helped us pivot as a company even more from the crowded craft beer market to expanding Sprecher’s craft soda line that people all enjoyed at home. Our sales from retail stores and online actually increased, and we were able to keep our business not only afloat but growing!

Today we are growing at about a 50% year over year growth, while expanding our product line and doubling our workforce. Covid was a very tough period for everyone, but it taught us we can get through difficult times and come out the other side stronger.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I hustle and move fast, and when I see a clear opportunity, I take advantage. An example is when everything else was canceled in 2020 during the pandemic, we set up a drive-through line at our brewery for 8 hours and gave away more than 16,000 root beer floats! This built amazing goodwill and memories for our customers and families.

I see potential in others and proud of the team we put in place to expand our reach around the country. We have hired for expertise with a growing sales team who have key contacts in the beverage industry, and leaders can help us in production, taproom management, supply chain, graphics and many other fields.

I approach goals with the big picture in mind and encourage our team to keep maniacal focus what will bring us all success! Our team knows that bringing in additional sales and expanding to new territories helps us all — and growing our topline revenue means more jobs and support for us all.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the concept of becoming free from failure. Let’s zoom in a bit. From your experience, why exactly are people so afraid of failure? Why is failure so frightening to us?

If you are not failing, you are not trying. Failure is part of entrepreneurial life. In my experience sometimes people aren’t given enough permission to fail, or feel like they will be blamed when something goes wrong. I always tell my team that it’s OK to fail — I have done it many times. The worst thing you can do is not trying. You can always pick yourself, dust yourself off and try again after failure.

What are the downsides of being afraid of failure? How can it limit people?

Not trying or being overly cautious leads to never exploring your potential. You’ll never get anywhere by standing on the sidelines and not taking a risk.

In contrast, can you help articulate a few ways how becoming free from the fear of failure can help improve our lives?

If I listened to everyone who told me how difficult it is to grow a craft beverage company, I would still be commuting to New York as an executive every week. We wouldn’t have expanded this iconic Wisconsin brand that is responsible now for so many new jobs, livelihoods and people enjoying themselves with special moments.

We would love to hear your story about your experience dealing with failure. Would you be able to share a story about that with us?

We put in a new can line during COVID, and it was a 7-figure investment. It did not work, we had lot of issues and we lost a lot of money. We did not give up, learned from our failure and got better. We reinvested and fixed the issues and now it is working great and is our growth engine. We launched some new products that did not do well and failed in the market. We learned from it and continue to reinvent ourselves and create new beverages that are helping our growth.

How did you rebound and recover after that? What did you learn from this whole episode? What advice would you give to others based on that story?

Keep trying, never give up! Pick yourself up and try again.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that everyone can take to become free from the fear of failure”? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Consider failure as part of life
  2. Learn from failure to get better
  3. Talk about failure with your team, family and friends and discuss what you learned and how you will get better.
  4. Give people permission to fail and focus on the larger goal
  5. Celebrate wins that came after the failure

The famous Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “It is possible to fail in many ways…while to succeed is possible only in one way.” Based on your experience, have you found this quote to be true? What do you think Aristotle really meant?

This reminds me of the Edison quote, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Every time you fail in a different way, you learn a new lesson.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Sprecher becomes THE beverage of choice in America 😊

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)

James Quincey, CEO of Coke

Ramon Laguarta, CEO of PepsiCo

Robert Gamgort, CEO of Keurig Dr. Pepper

Gavin Hattersley, CEO, Molson Coors

Michel Doukeris, CEO, AB InBev

Rodney McMullen, CEO, Kroger

Vivek Sankaran, CEO, Albertson

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Join the Sprecher Squad email list where we stay in touch with news and updates from our company. I personally like to update our biggest Sprecher fans there!

Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.

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Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor