Billionaire Sam Adams founder says 3 Harvard degrees didn't prepare him to be an entrepreneur

Sam Adams Stands Out While Beer Sales Slump

Jim Koch came from a family of beer brewers, but early on he decided that a traditional career in corporate America was the safe bet, especially since he was an excellent student.

He spent eight years at Harvard University and got not one, not two, but three degrees — a BA, JD, and MBA.

"I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur," Koch told Business Insider. "This was the '70s. Going to Harvard Law School or Harvard Business School was a pretty established path."

The next logical step was a gig with the prestigious Boston Consulting Group. But after seven years, Koch was bored of being a management consultant.

He decided to start Boston Beer Companywith his former colleague, Rhonda Kallman, using a version of his great-great-grandfather's beer recipe. Their flagship product was Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

Despite his elite education, Koch found that he didn't know how to build a business.

"When I started Sam Adams, I had an MBA from Harvard, a law degree from Harvard, six or seven years of management consulting," he said. "But guess what? I didn't know how to make a sales call. I didn't know how to design a label. I didn't know how to do a real-estate lead or set up a payroll. I didn't know how to get publicity for my business."

Koch eventually learned through trial-and-error, and the company became incredibly successful. But his experience shows the limitations of business school.

It inspired him to mentor other new entrepreneurs. He started the Brewing the American Dream program in 2008. Since then, 4,000 entrepreneurs in the food and beverage and hospitality industries have gone through free "speed coaching" sessions.

These typically entail six 20-minute discussions with coaches specializing in areas like distribution or public relations. They're meant to give new business owners insight into practical skills they most likely never studied, such as pitching to a retailer or conducting a job interview.

"We discovered that 20 minutes of solid advice can take people from zero to 80% or 90% of where they need to be in a particular area," Koch said. "And that's plenty good."

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