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Stone Brewing Hires New CEO

Maria Stipp is no stranger to the executive suite.

From 2001 to 2004, she was vice president of sales at Vivendi Universal Games, a former Los Angeles video game publisher. From 2004 through 2011, she held leadership roles at Activision, the Santa Monica-based video game company. From 2011 to 2015, Stipp was president at ecoATM, the San Diego headquartered mobile phone kiosk business. And from 2015 till March of this year, she was CEO of Lagunitas Brewing Company, now owned by Heineken International and with revenue of $228 million in 2016.

Now, Stipp has added a new title to her impressive resume.

Effective Sept. 14, Stipp is the new CEO of Stone Brewing. She will oversee Stone’s East and West Coast brewing production facilities, two Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens locations (including one in San Diego), seven Stone Brewing Tap Room locations and distribution to all 50 states and more than 40 countries. She will lead Stone Distribution Co., which distributes more than 40 brands of craft and specialty beverages throughout eight counties in northern and southern California. Stipp will also hold a seat on the Stone Brewing Board of Directors.

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The company’s former CEO, Dominic Engels, resigned in August following a four-year tenure.

Ninth Largest Craft Brewery

Headquartered in Escondido, the 1996-founded brewery is the ninth largest craft brewery in the country. Its reported revenue in 2015, according to Fortune Magazine, was more than $137 million.

“When I finished my five years at Lagunitas Brewing Company… I fell in love with (the craft beer industry),” said Stipp, 53, who received her Bachelor’s degree in business administration and management from the University of Iowa. “I found this to be an incredible opportunity that came across my desk, not just because it was a craft beer brand, but because Stone is a revolutionary and iconic craft beer brand led by high quality products. It’s not just a national brand, it’s a global brand. Not every craft beer brand can pull off the idea of traveling the way Stone has.”

Hunker Down

Greg Koch, co-founder and executive chairman at Stone Brewing, said now that Stipp has been appointed to the top-level position, the immediate point of business is to “hunker down” on the current production and distribution. Although he didn’t share exact case equivalent, he did say there has been a significant shift from kegs to packaged liquid. Koch also said while it hasn’t completely corrected the loss, off-premise sales have “made great strides” toward making up for the on-premise dip.

“Our on-premise business, for our bars and restaurants, the ones under the Stone name and bars and restaurants we do business with, meaning on-premise where people go and drink beer, fell off to 99.7% in April, just to paint a picture,” he said. “Fortunately, Stone has always had a presence in markets and grocery stores, liquor stores – all of the off-premise segment. So, we are a known presence with both our bottles and cans in that world. As consumers pivoted to enjoying beers at home, they’ve already been picking up Stone six packs and so on as they upped their consumption and buying patterns changed.”

Koch added distribution is in the “many thousands”, as Stone products are available pretty much in every state, across the U.S.

CPG and Tech

Stipp said she feels strongly her background, which she describes as a combination between CPG (consumer packaged goods) and technology experience, will provide her a meld of skills she can carry over to her new position at Stone.

While in the video game industry, for example, Stipp said she was able to bring over retail experience, inventory management, team building and marketing she learned at Kellogg’s and Miller Brewing Company. She worked as senior account manager from 1991 to 1995 at the former and chain sales director from 1995 to 2001 at the latter.

Similarly, Stipp learned some proficiencies during her time in technology that she implemented at Lagunitas. She will now apply some of those same skills at Stone, she said.

“Being in tune with consumers in mind is one of the most important things as a CEO,” she said. “Really making sure to center on the spirit of what is important to the consumer is key. Video game entertainment is purchased by people that have the same sense of loyalty toward beer. It is led by a community of very loud and proud fans and I learned that in the craft beer industry, they are core consumers that know their stuff. That is no different than the video game fans.”

Female CEO

Stipp doesn’t let the noise get in the way of her success.

Being a female CEO in a male-dominated industry, she recognizes it hasn’t always been easy, but she’s up for the challenge. It is precisely these past experiences that makes her a strong candidate.

“For me, I have certainly had moments where it hasn’t been necessarily as easy as for my male counterparts, but I have always found that really solid work and success at the job creates opportunity,” she said. “I always wanted to keep challenging myself to learn new products and industries, and how much applies from one job to another. It may not be obvious on the surface, but so many things carry from one to the next.” 

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