The Last Word: My humbling reinvention

    Craig Peterson


    President and chief executive officer

    Buffalo Water Beer Company

    Industry: Brewing

    225 East St. Paul, Suite 402, Milwaukee, WI 53202

    “Dad was a union meat cutter at Pick ‘n Save. Mom worked retail at Marshall Field’s. So, I witnessed firsthand how grueling and physically draining their jobs were, and that they were really unable to explore their dreams. I was the lucky one, the first in my family to graduate from college, and worked in the marbled halls of our State Capitol. I called governors, U.S. Senators and legislative leaders my friends.

    “My first real, non-political job was with a classic silk-stocking public relations and marketing firm. Pretty heady for a 25-year-old, with fancy offices, big name clients, Brooks Brothers’ suits, wingtips and even a secretary. Twenty-some years later, I was the CEO and enjoyed all the benefits of the mantle, including lavish travel, big expense accounts, club memberships, board appointments and even a decade-long stint as a university trustee.

    “In 2007, because of the opportunities I had been presented, I was able to explore a different path and become an entrepreneur, starting Buffalo Water Beer Company, a small craft brewing operation. This French adjective may sound like a romantic concept, but in reality, reinventing yourself and learning a new trade, without the safety net of a regular paycheck, or health insurance, is like free falling from 30,000 feet with no chute.

    “What I faced, however, was no different than what tens of millions of other Americans were dealing with due to corporate downsizing, the loss of small businesses and an economic downturn unlike anything since the Great Depression. Mine, however, was self-imposed and brought with it a sense of freedom, accomplishment and pride. I could make a product that consumers liked, and even paid money for.

    “Today, like my Mom, I essentially work retail. Hand-selling my products in grocery stores, handing out samples and practicing the retail politics I learned as a kid. Like my father, who tousled with sides of beef all day, I move half barrels down steep narrow stairs and carry cases from the truck to the receivers, who scan the products in.

    “I have learned empathy and respect for those who are going about reinventing themselves, and those who carry on in demanding trades. Many of the liquor and bar managers I work with, like John the liquor manager of Milwaukee’s downtown Metro Market, or Art, the sole proprietor of Just Art’s Saloon, have become friends and mentors, teaching a new craft to this 50-year-old apprentice.

    “I am far from being in the black, and every day is a financial, mental and physical struggle to succeed.  But the opportunity to follow your dreams can be priceless.”

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