Bass Beers Caffrey's Irish Ale-x
There was no Social Media in 1997. If there was I’d be fucked.
In 1989, I fell in love with serving tables as a 14 year old lounge boy in The Rathgar Inn (aka The 108) in Dublin, Ireland. It was not my first job. But it was the first job I found on my own with no help from anyone.
In the job, the pub business and its customers began to shape my views of the World. I became fascinated with the industry. I wanted to work in the big breweries. I wanted to add my style and ideas to the industry.
The Pubs I worked in paid my way through Secondary School and University. They also paid for my holidays and periods working in Spain, Greece and Italy expanding my language and cultural skills.
There was no Drinks Industry formal education then. So I chose to do the Food Masters in Smurfit Business School after a BCOMM in UCD. Two months in, I happen to land a place on the Bass Beers Worldwide Graduate Management Scheme.
I spoke very good Italian and Spanish and had the trade and business qualifications. What they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. I am and always have been an outlier. Once described as a “revolutionary with influence”.
I had managed to get to many of the final rounds of interviews with the Big Breweries, but once I was analysed by HR, I could hear the buildings security alarms announcing, "Computer says No”.
So here I was in the back door. Blinded by my skill-set, experience and needing a solution to help them launch Caffrey’s Irish Ale...x. BBW had let me sneak in. I had the Golden Ticket.
The first two and a half months were spent in training, 6 weeks in Belfast, 2 weeks in Birmingham and 2 weeks in Paris. Paris was incredible, not only did I learn a huge amount from the management course but I fell in love… with a Panamanian girl called Erika. How many people can say that. That was an awesome start.
My project was to help BBW launch Caffrey’s Irish Ale in their main European Distributors. I could not believe what I was learning. It was both enlightening and disappointing. I could not believe that there was no one in the entire BBW UK company that had any language skills. I was bewildered at the gap between BBW and its distributors, not just in languages but culturally. At BBW I felt I was in a kinder garden. It was not until I landed in Verese, Italy, and met the famous Mr. Renato Francescon that I began to feel at home. He was a force of nature.
Renato met me off the plane. He had me fed and and "watered" and then asked me to make my presentatation to the entire Italian office at about 10pm. He listend to 20 minutes and told me it was no good. I was not there to help pour the beer - I was there to sell “un sacco di birre”. He wanted a new presentation in time for my 1st meeting in Milan the next morning which was much more sales driven.
I did not go home. I had the new presentation ready and it had taken me all night. When they heard I was still at the office and not in the hotel they had a sudden respect for me. This young Irish guy not only speaks our language but he is as crazy as Renato!
I spent 6 months travelling around Italy, France, Spain and Sweden. It almost killed me. I made presentations to each distributor and then visited the distributors main pubs and meeting their new clients. Here I began dispensing my knowledge of the Pub business to extremely eager ears. The pub owners just wanted to hear more and more and more.
During that time, anyone could open a themed Pub. There was system that financed the pub owners through the distributors. Basically you could easily get access to £200K to set up a pub - all you had to do was promise to buy kegs of beer for a period of time. A whole industry spawned from this. Irish and UK companies specialised in building pubs around the World. It was hilarious. When I visited Napoli, you can imagine the people I met who wanted to get into this legal “narcotic” business.
In Dublin, the pub industry was a closed shop. Overly protected by the Publicans through licensing and extreme conservatism. Less so now but still a closed shop.
I was fascinated at the way someone with a corner property on the Piazza Del Campo in Siena could just get £200K and change it into a Themed Pub. This was not just in Italy, but Spain and France and many other countries.
As you can imagine, there was an inordinate amount of drinking going on. I was now not selling beer but selling the romance of opening a pub. I was a seller of dreams. The distributors would take me to their next big client. They were competing with other breweries to get the finance so I was perfect to describe how easy serving beer was. I was a young Irish man who made serving beer sound like a divine calling. I spoke their language and I had the experience. I was selling free water to the Arabs.
I managed to visit 84 cities in those 6 months and it almost killed me. One night in a hotel in Malaga I began to feel unwell. I woke up in the middle of the night and my bed was soaking with sweat, I moved to the other bed and within an hour it was like splashing around in a bath. The next morning I looked in the mirror and saw the white of my eyes turning yellow. I had Hepatitis. More than likely alcohol induced Hepatitis.
I had spent the previous 8 years dreaming of a job like this. But like many young kids who join professional clubs in the premiership, the bright lights blinded me and I lost my way. When I recovered, I realised that a life like that was no good for me. I had to return to Ireland and start again.
What could I learn from Coca-Cola?