Sharad Chadha (’98 MBA), Chief Executive Officer & President of Sprecher Brewing Company, says he is living the American Dream.
Born and raised in India as the son of a teacher and a military officer, expectations were high for Sharad to become an engineer or a doctor. He chose the engineering route in order to get a sense of safety and security.
But hearing him now, the “sure and steady” path doesn’t really seem to be part of his makeup.
In fact, today he is certain that he was meant to be an entrepreneur – where risk taking is part of the job description – joking that one of his early bosses even told him that he didn’t take direction well.
He came to Milwaukee in the mid 1990s, earning his MBA at the Lubar School of Business in 1998 and climbing the ladder of success at major international companies such as ABB, GE Healthcare, Electrolux, and most recently, Samsung, where he was Vice President of Services, Consumer Electronics, and Home Appliances.
At some point along the way, he also started thinking about buying a company, and began to test the waters as an investor with Silicon Pastures, an angel investment network that focuses on companies in the Midwest.
As fate would have it, during one of his weekends at home from his weekly commute to the east coast for his Samsung position, his friend Randy Sprecher mentioned that he wanted to retire. Sprecher is Wisconsin’s first craft brewery, well-known for its fire brewing process, use of local ingredients, and small production batches. Sharad saw the potential for growth.
“This is it,” he said to himself.
Seven months later, in January 2020, the deal was signed for Sharad and 13 other investors to acquire Sprecher Brewery, with Sharad taking the helm as CEO and President.
Two months after that, COVID hit. A total high followed by a “very high stress” low. He had invested everything he had into the brewery purchase, and it was all suddenly at risk, as was the livelihood of his employees.
Sharad’s vision has always been to build out the business and make it a craft beverage icon, diversifying beyond the over-crowded craft beer market by expanding Sprecher’s craft soda line that includes its top-selling root beer.
COVID or not, the plan had to proceed. The company made a major investment in a can line, and added a second production shift and 40 jobs. It signed a new big player – Costco – to its retail partners that also include Walmart, Target, Kroger, Menards, and Sendik’s. It shifted production to canning and bottling, rather than kegs, and began testing new products lines such as mixers and caffeinated sodas.
It was the most difficult of times, but they “slogged it out” and it has paid off. The brewery’s year-over-year sales have seen 50% growth. With Sprecher’s craft sodas now accounting for more than 90% of its business, he says “craft soda is our future.”
“Life is a bunch of choices you have to make every day,” he says, “It rarely goes in a straight line. You have to be prepared and you have to hustle. But eventually you get there.”
Cheers to that!