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Beer Baroness Manjit Minhas

Beer Baroness Manjit Minhas

By Surbhi Gogia

Manjit Minhas is just 36 year old who has risen to international fame of being a “beer baroness” by owning a booze empire with annual revenues of over 187 million dollars. Co-founder and CEO of the Minhas Breweries, Distillery and Winery in Calgary, Manjit started her business at the ripe age of 19 with her brother Ravinder with only 10,000 dollars in hand.

Together, they gave the big boys a run for their money, thereby becoming the first successful company to enter the Canadian beer industry in many decades. They built Minhas Brewery into a booze empire. She was just 25, when she bought the Wisconsin facility which is one of the oldest in America, shipping more than a million cans of beer a week. Currently, she has over 90 brands of beers, spirits, liqueurs and wines with brands like Boxer Lager, Lazy Mutt Ale and Huber Bock.  Her products are sold in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan , Manitoba and British Columbia, as well as 45 states throughout the USA and 16 other countries in Europe, Asia and South America.

Over the last few years, wherever Manjit and Ravinder have entered the marketplace, and especially in Canada, they have single headedly caused a huge stir in the marketplace. To date, her companies have sold over 6 billion pints of beer!  Many beer drinkers in Canada and USA have welcomed her style of beer as a tasty alternative to the higher priced mediocre beers that dominate the market place.

But Manjit’s talents go beyond the beer and beverages. She is a heavy-weight in the boardroom with a sharp eye for retail and negotiation. A mother of two young kids, a wife, an investor, speaker at various business forums and now a Dragon at the CBC’s famous reality TV show Dragon’s Den. The list is endless. When asked about the secret behind her success, Manjit does not have one of those run-of the mill answers where she takes credits of being an extraordinary superwoman who does everything by herself and who is difficult to identify with, in real life.

Being a mother and an entrepreneur, she too faces challenges of balancing work and home. But she says, that women are humans they cannot be everywhere so a good support system can help them achieve their dreams. “Ask for help. I realized this when I became a mother. I would have drowned myself if I did not have help,” she says.

Manjit with her brother and business partner Ravinder

Manjit says that it takes a team to be successful. Along with hard work and passion for what you do, being surrounded by supportive people can make a huge difference in your life. During the interview with Desi Today, while talking about her incredible life story, there was not a single moment where she did not recall how her husband, brother and parents being a backbone of her business and success.

Early days

Manjit was born and raised in Calgary to an Indian parentage. Her mother is from Vancouver Island and father was born in Punjab and raised in Delhi, India. After re-doing his Mechanical Engineering degree at The University of Calgary he worked in a big oil firm in Calgary when he moved to Canada in 1976. But after 15 years of his service, in 1993 when there was a big downturn in the oil patch, he was laid off. It was at that same time, Alberta’s premier privatized retail liquor industry which meant that any individual can open a retail liquor store with a license. Manjit’s father decided to open three retail liquor stores which quickly became top retailing and wholesaling selling stores in the province.

Manjit started working in her father’s stores during holidays and weekends at the age of 13 when in school. “I did everything there from mopping to cleaning to selling,” she says. Hoping to follow her father’s footsteps in education, she took up engineering in the university. “I thought I would work in the oil patch just like my dad, but life had different plans for me.”

Manjit was 19 and her brother only a year younger, when they decided to get into the current business. “The idea struck us when we used to take orders for bars and restaurants to provide liquors. We thought why not come up with own private label brand for my father’s store,” she recalls.

However, producing her own brands of booze was an all together different ball game from owning a liquor store. Manjit was about to trail an uncharted territory where everything seemed against her. She was a brown, a girl in an all old white boy’s club industry, she was young and about to compete with old players who inherited this business from generations.

But unfazed by these tough situations, determined to achieve her goal, she and her brother took the leap of faith.”We only had 10,000 dollars in our pockets when we decided to start our business,” she says. The duo launched Mountain Crest Spirits and began setting up a supply chain. They got their big break when Manjit decided to attend a distillers’ conference in Texas.

It was in that conference she met a wholesaler — and owner of one of the biggest and largest distillery in the US under whose guidance they pulled together a line of basic bar stock: rum, rye, gin and vodka.

The siblings made international headlines when they bought second oldest brewery in the USA in 2006 because they were officially the youngest brewery owners in the world. They have now grown The Minhas Breweries (a facility in Wisconsin and in Calgary) to the 9th largest producing breweries in the world. They also have America’s largest Beer Memorabilia Museum, located in Monroe as well as thriving tour centers and gift shops, that are major tourist attractions.

Manjit and Ravinder opened a new brewery in Calgary in June 2012 – the Minhas Micro Brewery. This facility makes unique and specialty beers such as the Lazy Mutt Alberta Wheat Beer and Gluten Free beer.

Manjit, though an engineer, looks after the finance, human resources and marketing of her business. When asked where she got these abilities for business she says, “I was always good in Math. But I had no formal education in business.” She owes a lot to her parents. “My father believed in me and my brother. He guided me in setting vision and goals for the company and most importantly how to come up with a business plan and set revenue models since I was not a business student.”

Even after making it big in business, Manjit is a life-long learner. Her education has never stopped. Though she speaks at various business forums and conferences about leadership and entrepreneurship, she is also a student always upgrading herself in technical as well as practical knowledge. “I continue taking courses in negotiations, finance, accounting. I learn a lot from people around me,” she says.

Being a Dragon

Apart from giving her expertise and money, Manjit feels she is also learning a lot from young pitchers at the Dragon’s Den and her cohorts. She decided to enter the Den in 2015. “I have always loved the show and when I got a call from CBC, I went for a screen test and was selected.” But it took a while before she committed to be a Dragon since Manjit has other roles to play too. “I am a full time entrepreneur plus a mother, so I had to work out my schedule with my husband and my brother to spend time on the show.”

Inside the Den, she is a fiery dragon, who is sometimes blunt and upfront to the pitchers. “We are not given any introduction or prior information about the pitchers. We do calculations on the spot in 1 hour of filming each pitch. It is a true definition of a reality TV.”

When Manjit agrees to a deal apart from a product, she looks at the personality of the entrepreneur. “I see whether they are passionate, whether they would stick to their commitment and use my money diligently. I need to make sure that they will be able to handle the pressure.”

There have been so many entrepreneurs she has helped in the Den. So far she has invested in baby products, fashion brands and even as bizarre as heavyweight championship.

On the other hand there have been times when she is upfront. “I have told so many to stop wasting their time and money. Some people spend way too much money even before they start their business.”

Manjit has grown up in an Indian family where you are taught about earning and spending side by side. Never spend beyond your means. Even her message to all those who are starting their new business is to spend wisely. She says that spending and investing within your means makes a lot of difference.

Her another lesson to the entrepreneurs is to be committed and passionate about what they do. In one of the business forums Manjit said that she has been grown up with Confucius quote, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Once you have discovered what you are passionate about, start early. “Do not just sit with idea and spend years on research. Research is an integral part of the business, but don’t too long to start your business because you can iterate and perfect it once you start and if you take too long someone else might beat you to the market with the same idea,” she says.

Manjit also suggests that starting early is one of the best ways to be successful because once you are older and have many responsibilities in life such as a family it is difficult to take risks.”I used to eat, sleep and breath my business when I was started young which would be much harder now.”

Photo credit: Steve Dutcheshen Photography

Manjit as mom + entrepreneur

Though she still breaths her business Manjit has more responsibilities now. She is a mother of two young girls. So how does she create work life balance? “I have a very supportive family. But I plan my day. Every hour of my day is scheduled which gives you productivity.”

She says that women have dreams and passionate too. “If you want to fulfill your dreams stop feeling guilty and start enjoying where you are. If you are at work enjoy that and when you are with family spend quality time there. If you are happy you will make everyone around you happy.”

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