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An Interview with Wynne Odell — Part 1: Owning Your Brilliance

Wynne Odell. Photo courtesy of Odell Brewing Co.

Nancy Kepner, CEO of Crafted Leadership conducted an interview with Wynne Odell, the CEO and co-founder of Odell Brewery on June 22, 2018 in the tasting room of Odell Brewing Company in Fort Collins, CO.

Together with her husband, Doug, and her sister-in-law Corkie, Wynne co-founded Odell Brewing Co. in 1989 and grew it to the 22nd largest craft brewery in the U.S. In 2015, the family founders sold the majority of the company to its co-workers in a combined management buyout and employee stock ownership plan.

In this part of the interview, Odell talks about moving into the CEO role, where she discovers she is most effective.

Question: I've heard you say that when your business started, you focused on the business side, and the accounting, and then you grew into strategy and visioning. Is that accurate?

Wynne: That's accurate.

Question: How did you learn skills you needed to know to be successful in your business? Was there a specific learning path you took, or people or resources you relied on?

Wynne: You know, that's an interesting question because it was certainly not purposeful how I moved into that role. It just sort of evolved. I started more on the accounting/business side. I thought that was what a business needed. When we were small, this focus was adequate to get us where we needed to go.

Over time, however, it became apparent that Doug, Corkie and I operated as a triumvirate. I think that we were reluctant to really acknowledge our respective skill sets. So, if we were deciding should we buy something, or should we put in new equipment, should we hire another person, all of us would jump on it with equal voice, despite the fact that one of the three of us may have had a little deeper perspective on the issue.

We operated that way for quite a while. It wasn't until 2009 that we actually created the role of CEO and put me in it.

[We] recognized over time that what we needed from me was not my accounting skills (which I have to say were abysmal, now that I see what a real CFO can do!). It was more important for me to step back and look at the bigger picture and the longer-term perspective, and make sure that all of our parts were working together in a way that moved us forward together.

Corkie Odell, Wynne Odell, and Doug Odell in the Odell brewhouse. The trio founded Odell Brewing Co. in 1989. Photo courtesy of Odell Brewing Co.

Question: Our company, Crafted Leadership, would call that move your moment of stepping in to your Zone of Genius or Brilliance*, where you are working at your best. I'm curious how you came to recognize that this (strategy and vision) was your particular area of genius? Sometimes that occurs by accident, but it sounds more thoughtful in your case.

Wynne Odell: I actually really appreciate that question because it seemed a little bit by accident, but I had a sense I had been functioning in that role for several years. Having the three founders acknowledge that this role was important, that I was essentially serving in it and agreeing that they would report to me — not in the sense that I would be driving my thumb into them — but that they would acknowledge my role in helping move the company forward. That was a big deal.

I love the genius idea. I don't use genius in talking about myself at all, but it is so interesting because after I had been in that role formally for about a year, I realized this was exactly what I wanted to do and where I felt I could be most effective. I've never really thought of it that way.

Question: We didn't come up with the idea; one of our mentors, Gay Hendricks, talks about four Zones: Zones of Incompetence, Competence, Excellence and Genius. Many times CEOs will find themselves in their area of excellence where they are good (and validated for it) but it’s not quite the area where they are meant to be. When they figure out their Zone of Genius, it’s good for the entire company.

Is there a difference now that you are in this role? Is there a freedom in being able to make decisions and know, “I'm good at this and this is what I'm here to do”? Sometimes we don't talk about the energy that is liberated when we step into what we're really best at.

Wynne: That was definitely the case with me. I was not cut out to be an accountant. Moving into the new role was freeing.

You used the words "to make decisions." One of the things I recognize about myself is I don't make decisions. I think that one of the things I’m good at is bringing together the people who need to make the decision, and helping them, in many cases forcing them, to come to consensus, pick a course of action, and go with it. I think that's one of the things that was paralyzing for the three founders as a triumvirate, is we didn't have someone say, "Alright, we're done. We've talked about this enough, we know what the landscape is, and we need to make a decision, move on, and not second guess ourselves."

That kind of person, I think, can be very powerful in an organization like ours. It's not that the buck stops here and I'm going to tell you what to do. We have an incredibly talented group of people who have grown up together, and learned to work together, and I wouldn't begin to question a decision our production manager makes. If he's buying a big piece of equipment, yes, we need to understand why he's buying it, what the point is, make sure it fits in with our plan, but the exact piece of equipment or how it is implemented, I don’t question. Our salesperson says, I want to go with this distributor, not this distributor — he's the one who understands that field. I like to be able to support them in reaching their own decision, but it's actually very freeing not to be the one who is making all of the decisions.

Other blogs from this interview touch on leadership and Odell’s committed approach to company culture, community, and growth. View Part 2: Leadership and Part 3: Growth, Values, Community.

* In his book, The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks, Ph.D., suggests all our activities can be categorized into Four Zones: Incompetence, Competence, Excellence, and Genius. The Genius Zone is where you are using your unique gifts and passions, ideas come easily, and your contributions serve yourself, as well as others.



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