Get to know Grand Rapids (and the world)

Mike Stevens, Founders Brewing Co.

On a day I got in the car and read 1 degree on the dashboard, it was refreshing to walk into an office for a 9 a.m. meeting with nice Cuban music in the background.

Whenever you walk into Founders President and CEO Mike Stevens’ office, he has music going, and in my case, it always seems to be Cuban music. With the dry, grainy snow blowing out the window, it seemed appropriate that day.

It was a topic of discussion, just for a minute, just prior to asking him what he’d do if he weren’t working at Founders next week.

“I’d focus on taking some time off,” he said. “I’d go travel, decompress a bit. But I’d work again. It’s in my blood; move on to my next adventure.”

It’s fairly safe to say Stevens, and co-founder Dave Engbers, haven’t stopped working since the day they opened in 1997. They fought of bankruptcy and struggled to make it for many years. Now, the company can’t stop growing as it’s become one of the world’s most renowned breweries.

It’s no wonder why Stevens and Engbers are so friendly and down-to-Earth, Engbers summed it up great with, “We spent so many years running this business into the ground, it’s hard not to stay grounded.”

But the passion is what drove the pair to continue to push. And the entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t hurt. It seems that Stevens has an endless amount of that spirit.

“I’ve always said it, it’s primarily out of a passion, a desire to do something that pleases me,” he said. “Most entrepreneurs, there’s a personality trait that you’re born with and raised in an environment that pushes you toward that path.”

It’s amazing that Stevens said his passion is still 100 percent as strong as when Founders opened. The hardships the company went through were enough for him to say he wouldn’t do it all over again.

He said as you age, you begin to realize the importance of separating work and making time for family and things you enjoy. But that passion makes that hard for him, because although he’s busy with Founders, he still loves his job.

“It’s an area of frustration, I’m so driven that I have a hard time separating them,” he said. To help combat that, he’s moving away from day-to-day work and into a strategic position; a position to help protect the Founders brand and keep it real.

That will provide Stevens a fun aspect to work. Fun, he said, is key in life.

“It’s cliché, but the primary focus of life should be to have fun,” he said. “It’s easy to follow the money when you’re younger, but as you age and life beats you up, you begin to realize what’s important.”

While it seems pretty easy to say when you’re running one of the world’s best breweries, he said something that can resonate with all of us.

“Nine times out of ten, it isn’t what you do,” Stevens said of work, “but it can be how you do it.

“How you approach your job and life is the most important.”

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3 Responses to “Mike Stevens, Founders Brewing Co.”

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