Since 1888, Louis Glunz Beer, Inc. has served as one of Chicago’s leading beer distribution companies. Now entering its 125th year of operation, Glunz celebrates its female staff as they forge ahead in an otherwise male-dominated business.
It’s not a new discussion – the lack of women in the beer industry – but it continues to gain momentum and trigger conversation. According to industry statistics, women only account for about 27 percent of the beer drinking population, which reinforces the stereotypical idea that beer is innately masculine and should be a man’s product.
Janet Glunz Bischoff, CFO at Louis Glunz Beer, Inc., is living proof this assumption is false. She’s daughter of Glunz President/Owner Jack Glunz, grandson of Louis Glunz I, who fled Germany in 1871 during the Franco-Prussian War and ended up in Chicago in 1872 with little more than the clothes on his back. He found a job as a commission delivery man with Wacker & Birk, a Chicago brewery, and learned all he could about the brewery in the hopes of someday owning his own business – which he did in 1888 on Wells and Division.
So while Ms. Bischoff’s exposure to the beer industry was inevitable, her rise to CFO has been one of continuous climbing and, at times, involved learning the tricky business of male camaraderie.
Early on, it was all about work ethic. Throughout high school and college, Ms. Bischoff held a few jobs on top of helping with her family’s business; a company known as the “premier distributor for micro, specialty and import beers in Chicagoland” with a portfolio of over 650 beers. “It was great exposure because I actually got to see how fast the business was being run, and it also convinced me of the importance of working outside the company,” says Ms. Bischoff.
After graduating from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, where she earned a degree in business and marketing, Ms. Bischoff was hired by the Stroh Brewery Company and underwent intense training. They sent her all over the country to learn different aspects of the beer business and gain experience working with wholesalers, retailers, chain reps, and brewers. “I actually got to see what happened day-to-day in the business and how it affected overall sales,” she recalls.
In the ‘80s, Ms. Bischoff became one of the first female district managers in the nation and was placed in North Dakota to oversee sales and marketing in North Dakota and Montana. She found herself managing a large male staff. Luckily, growing up in a family of seven kids and having parents who made sure there was never a gender divide when teaching different life skills, she knew how to hunt and fish. “Being in such a male-dominated business means the expectations of doing such things as hunting and fishing are pretty big, and being able to do that was a feather in my cap,” explains Ms. Bischoff.
Despite recreational excursions, she increased sales significantly in North Dakota and Montana and was promoted. She was transferred to Chicago to manage marketing and special events for six states in the Midwest region. A few years later, due to downsizing and another potential transfer, Ms. Bischoff left Stroh Brewery for a brand manager position in her family’s business. From there, she took on a sales manager position, leapt to the internal office and was finally bumped up to CFO. “Because I walked the walk and did those jobs, I’m in a good place to teach, develop and manage,” says Ms. Bischoff. “Investing in customer service is really what has helped our company. While the rest of the beer industry has been down or flat for the last five years, we’ve had double digit growth.”
Ms. Bischoff believes the driving force behind her development and growth is her 78-year-old father, who continues to come into the office every day with new marketing ideas. “His brain never stops, which is a great lesson,” she affirms. “He has such a will and drive and work ethic, which is such a great example for us.”
The ‘us’ includes her fellow family members who also work with the company. Her sister Jane G. Delaney joined the company in 1989 and is now the internal office manager, and another sister Jennifer G. Faulk started as director of marketing in 2007. “I think we push each other harder than we would push a regular employee,” says Ms. Bischoff about working with family. “We also benefit the most from the company’s successes and are held to task for any failures.”
In the meantime, Ms. Bischoff will continue her own journey in the beer business: “If you surround yourself with educated and great advisors, you can quite often come to the right answer or at least be led down a path to make a decision that’s best for your company.”