Adam Firestone, co-founder of Firestone Walker Brewing Co., has a message for young professionals: “Stick with it.”
Firestone, who with his brother-in-law David Walker founded and grew the business to one of the top-ranked craft breweries in the nation, stressed the important role endurance played in his accomplishments while speaking at The Tribune's 10th annual Top 20 Under 40 awards luncheon Thursday at the Madonna Inn.
The competition honors the accomplishments of men and women younger than 40 who have demonstrated excellence in their professions and commitment to community service. To be eligible, nominees must have lived and worked in the county year-round.
At the event, Firestone reminisced on the careers he had before founding the brewery and offered words of wisdom to the Top 20 winners based on his experiences.
Firestone first described a moment from his time as a Marine during the Gulf War, when enemy troops set fire to oil wells and blackened the sky with dense smoke, leaving the Marines temporarily in the dark.
Though they eventually emerged unscathed, he said the experience taught him an important lesson in “situational awareness.”
“That moment taught me how panicked you can be when you don’t know what is going on around you,” he said. “If you can capture that one idea of going from darkness to light, and can use that in your career — well, I’ll wager that that’s why you all are here today, anyway.”
Firestone’s next lesson came while he was working as a lawyer in Santa Barbara, after leaving the military. He said he had always had a skill for law, but up until that time, he didn’t use it.
“Each one of you has a skill,” he said. “If you can focus on what that skill is going forward, and remember that skill, it will probably be a building block of why you are here and where you get to.”
Firestone’s final lesson related to the founding of Firestone Walker Brewing Co. — to stick with your ideas, even when faced with failure.
Firestone said when he first distributed his business plan for a brewery he was turned down time and time again. Even when “blind luck” led him to his brother-in-law and eventual business partner, and their original employees, the group had to face disappointment after disappointment while attempting to perfect their product.
Eventually they prevailed, he said, though it would not have happened if they had not had endurance.
“Just last; have the endurance to still last,” he advised. “There’s no shortage of challenges, but just stick with it.”
Firestone also encouraged the winners to consider in the future what success means to them and related a story about a Harley-Davidson marketing official offering one example of the company’s success: “60 percent of our customers have our brand tattooed on them.” (Immediately following that, Firestone showed several pictures of tattoos inspired by the Firestone Walker bear-and-lion logo, to the amusement of the audience.)
In closing, Firestone congratulated the Top 20 winners, and wished them the best in their future endeavors.
“It’s a major achievement to be honored by your community, by your friends, and also this amazing panel of judges,” he said. “This is a great group.”