Carlos Kronen, Executive Director, The Bartender Company

In today’s world, many businesses are permeating the market, and a great leader is pivotal for an organization to thrive. Motivation, creativity, empathy, and vision are desired leadership qualities. However, a successful leader possesses all that and the ability to adapt to ever-changing environments, thereby implementing a gamut of leadership skills that can be leveraged to achieve set business goals.

One such business titan is Carlos Kronen, Executive Director of The Bartender Company and consequently of The Bartender Truck and The Mixology Company. He briefly explains that he believes the top challenges faced as a businessman are evolving business environments that need to be tended to and retaining a high-quality workforce.

Successfully Eliminating Encountered Challenges

Having established The Bartender Company in 2010, Carlos has always focused on creating financial stability of his companies by maintaining a strong balance sheet with minimal debt. This allows the business to weather the storm easily during slow periods. With academic qualifications from Stanford, with Degrees in Economics, International Relations, and a minor in German Studies, Carlos spent the next four years in banking (Private Wealth Management) at Morgan Stanley and Merril Lynch. With a majority of small businesses failing due to financial mismanagement, his background in banking permitted him to ensure the companies’ longevity by maximizing the downside protection in all the financial plans.

In addition, Carlos also designed the upper and mid-level management compensation to align itself in parallel to the revenue and profitability of the company. This approach assures any underlying costs fall when there is less revenue. “When things go well, as is often the case (we typically grow our revenue 20 to 30 percent per year), we all win together,” reveals Carlos. For the latter, specifically retaining top-quality staff, instead of the industry’s typical hourly compensation, The Bartender Company has created an eleven-part ‘Living Wage Program.’ “Not only do our bartenders receive hourly compensation that’s above our competitors, but they also have an additional ten ways they increase their pay, leading them to be amongst the best-compensated bartenders in the country,” informs Carlos.

Expanding the Business

For over a decade, The Bartender Company has commanded quite the market presence. It was one of the first companies to offer craft cocktails, with handmade syrups and fresh-pressed farmer’s market fruit, at a client’s private events. The whole concept was well received, especially as the craft cocktail culture catapulted to newer heights. This led to the company’s revenue growth at over 100 percent for multiple years. The company even received a few offers for acquisition that were politely declined as Carlos envisioned leading the company to even more success.

With a finger always at the market’s pulse, in 2014, the team’s market studies suggested the ‘food truck’ movement would be the next wave in the industry. The Bartender Truck was immediately launched, albeit the licensing took two years as they were the first food truck company in California to specialize in alcoholic beverages. As a trendsetter, Carlos and his team assisted the local government officials in formulating the state regulations for food trucks. “At one point, we acted as a liaison between Alcoholic Beverage Control, California Department of Housing and Community Development, and San Francisco Public Works, helping all three agree upon standards for future MFFs (mobile food facilities, aka food trucks) would be regulated. It was wild!” exclaims Carlos.

For over a decade, the organization has been a national leader in thought innovation. San Francisco and New York have traditionally been the hubs for cocktail culture in the US, and the Bartender Company and its members take pride in being the industry’s West Coast innovators. This year, they launched ‘The Mixology Company,’ which specializes in interactive mixology experiences, from mixology classes to interactive private parties. “It’s pretty common for us to teach the C-Suite executives of a Fortune 500 tech company how to stir old fashioneds and shake margaritas. If you can name a tech executive in the Bay Area, they’re probably one of our clients,” says Carlos.

Happy Workforce Equals Company Success

A part of the success the businesses enjoy today can be attributed to their workforce. So keeping them content and weighing in their opinions and suggestions are essential. Keeping this in mind, Carlos has employed a process where after every event, every single staff is asked three questions; ‘Anything you did particularly well?’, ‘anything you should do differently?’ and lastly, ‘anything we (as a company) should do differently?’.  Carlos adds, “The answers to these questions ensure that not only are we constantly thinking about technology and innovation at the upper levels of our organization, but also at the ground level, where our teammates implement those changes on a daily basis and can give live feedback on how well they’re working. We focus on being an agile organization, improving a little bit with every single party.”

Getting Personal

He tells us how his personal life also played a huge role in developing the skills he possesses today. His childhood took him to extreme locations like a warzone in Nicaragua and a desolate Native American reservation in Arizona, owing to his father being a ‘Doctors without Borders’ type. Being in some of the most dangerous and destitute parts of the world helped Carlos develop the ability to become extremely adaptive and social. “I believe that being able to adapt quickly to new circumstances is the best skill someone can possess for creating success in the current day,” declares Carlos.

In fact, as the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic brought ruin to the world as we saw it, it also destroyed the entire food and beverage industry. The company’s revenue was down 95 percent, a similar fate shared by its competitors. While most organizations were crippled, Carlos and his team did what they did best, innovated! The team spent a year offering “Virtual Happy Hours” over Zoom, virtually teaching clients across the country how to make cocktails in the safety of their own homes. “One source of pride for us is we didn’t lose a single employee during that period, which is unheard of for a company in our industry. Fortunately, I think we’re currently operating in a post-pandemic world. Our revenue this year will be the highest in company history, and we’re preparing for continued growth for many years to come,” discloses Carlos.

While some may find running the day-to-day business operations and addressing the challenges encountered a tedious task, Carlos absolutely loves working. He does not think of it as a burden or a task, so he’s never really looking for an escape, for an escape would imply being trapped. After resting and having some fun on his off days, he finds himself back in his office, continuing to push his three companies forward. Carlos says, “I’ll probably never retire, just continually change what I’m learning (and how I’m growing) and ensure a work-life balance that makes me happy. I always do a few hours of work at the beginning and end of each day, even while I’m away, as I love what I do.” On days when business is a bit slow, he enjoys a good week-long vacation. Additionally, he loves to ski, scuba dive, and sail in foreign locations.

Building a Better Community

Carlos wishes to foster a similar thought process in his fellow businessmen. He envisages how small businesses can be successfully rolled into larger private equity portfolios. Traditionally, in this industry, all small businesses are considered ‘lifestyle businesses,’ which was formally defined as they provide a foundation from which to enjoy a ‘particular lifestyle.’ But realistically, the owner/operators work constantly and never get away. Carlos is currently trying to figure out how an investment company can successfully manage many of these companies and ensure they’re all successful. This would allow lifestyle business founders to have a better potential for exits, investors to make significant profits while reducing risk, and eliminate a lot of ‘Closing After 30 Good Years’ signs.

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