Leadership Cape May County
One of the unsung heroes in Cape May County is our Chamber of Commerce. With some 800 members, the Chamber works diligently to engage the community through a variety of means. They implement member and visitor services, manage special events, and work on specific issues. They’re tirelessly promoting Cape May County’s tourism and offer a variety of marketing opportunities.
Over the past four years, through their Educational Foundation, they’ve instituted Leadership Cape May County, designed to develop informed, committed, and qualified business, community, and civic leaders for Cape May County.
Thirty-nine individuals have graduated from the program over the past three years, including our Distribution Manager Justin Vitti and our Marketing Director Alicia Grasso.
This week, the current class stopped by the Tasting Room to hear what Ryan had to say on Leadership.
Leadership Cape May County is a nine-month, three-part program, incorporating educational seminars, field experience, and alumni engagement. The first half of each day includes a classroom seminar on various leadership topics, while the second half focuses on a specific aspect of Cape May County, including site visits, local experts, and behind the scenes experiences that few people get to encounter.
Alicia was part of the second class of Leadership Cape May County.
“I really enjoyed the program,” she said. “I left each session feeling inspired and motivated, and I got to know the County better through the field trips and excursions. We had a great instructor, and the experience was great for networking.”
Justin was part of the third crop of leaders.
“I think that this program is awesome and really worth the time,” he said. “It personally helped me bridge the generational gap between my team members and myself and help them to realize their tendencies, as well as how to better myself in terms of being a leader.”
Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm is taking the class this time around.
“It’s a very enjoyable class,” he says, “with lots of great lessons to help me develop myself professionally, as well as chances to get to know a lot of people from all over Cape May County.”
This year was the first time they’d incorporated a visit to the brewery. Beertender and Private Events Coordinator Kathy Forler greeted the class of twenty or so with flights of Cape May IPA, Always Ready, Honey Porter, and White Caps.
“Ryan is always entertaining, informative, and educational,” says President of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce, Vicki Clark. “And Cape May Brewing Company showcases many aspects of the unique possibilities in Cape May County, focusing on beverage tourism. It’s a growing business at Cape May County Airport, which is where we spent the majority of the afternoon, highlighting the new expanding possibilities, bringing more sustainable, year-round businesses to Cape May County Airport.”
Ryan began with a history of the brewery before explaining his philosophy of leadership.
“We have some 75 employees,” he said, “and, the way I see it, they’re my boss. One of the guiding forces for us is ‘servant leadership’. Our org chart isn’t with me at the top; I’m at the bottom. I’m here to provide people, resources, and any type of support that our managers need, and, in turn, they provide those resources to their people.”
He touched on our Core Values and the Credo Card we all carry.
“The really important part of this is that no one is above it,” he said. “Myself included. That’s really the fabric that holds us all together.”
Vicki had a question about entrepreneurship around the County: opportunities for other types of businesses outside of the beverage industry. Ryan had a book suggestion: The Great Game of Business.
“You either win on price or innovation,” he recounted. “You’re either doing something cheaper than somebody else, or you’re doing something that no one’s ever done.”
Beer isn’t new, but it was new to Cape May County, and New Jersey as a whole — before the change in legislation in 2012 that allowed us to sell pints of our product — was pretty far behind, as well.
However, as we opened in 2011, we were relatively innovative when it came to beer in the area. And, with Brian Hink’s new role as Innovation Director, that’s something we’re committed to in the future.
Another question was about the challenges that Ryan faces while running a business of this size.
“One of the hardest things about running this company is people,” he said. “It’s all about meeting expectations. As a leader, your job is to set the expectation that this candle goes right here. Whether it’s team members, customers, or whatever, they’re gonna move the candle, and it’s up to you to say, ‘Hey, this candle goes right here.’ So, for me, the biggest challenge is managing expectations with our employees. People are always challenging you, whether they realize it or not. They give their input as to how things should be done, and it’s up to you to balance that and nudge that candle back into the right position. I call it a ‘gentle, steady pressure.’”
Another challenge is staying in front of the competition.
“That speaks to innovation,” he said. “We need to look at the next big thing and figure out how we’re going to incorporate that — or not — into what we do. So, we want to think about those things, but not be outside of our lane. You’ve gotta know who you are and know who you’re not.”
In all, the students seemed to get a lot out of the visit to the brewery. After the session with Ryan, Jimmy took them on a tour of the production facility, and they ended up with a lot of time to network and socialize.
Leadership Cape May County is one more benefit to living in the County. We’re extraordinarily lucky to have such a resource at our disposal, and we hope to have more graduates in the future.