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Boston Beer CEO: A key skill Harvard didn't teach me

When Jim Koch left his consulting job to launch a company around a family beer recipe in 1984, he had an impressive résumé: three degrees from Harvard, including a law degree and MBA, plus six years at the Boston Consulting Group.

"I had what you would think is a very good business background and education," he said at the Iconic conference in Boston on Thursday.

Shortly after starting Boston Beer, which has evolved into a $2 billion craft beer empire, Koch realized that in order to get Samuel Adams to market, he first needed to learn how to sell it.

And that's something the Harvard Business School alum said the hallowed Ivy never taught him.

"We've been culturally trained to think that selling is an ignoble activity — but I learned, against all my expectations, that done right, it is very noble. You are helping the customer achieve their objectives, so you have to learn to listen and empathize." -Jim Koch, Boston Beer CEO

"Harvard, to this day, has dozens of courses on marketing and no courses on selling," Koch said. "I think they look down their nose at it intellectually. Nobody goes to school to be a salesman … but that's what I had to learn to do."

Koch went to the HBS bookstore and bought the one relevant book he could find: "How to Master the Art of Selling" by Tom Hopkins.

The self-taught salesman realized that selling isn't "the sleazy stuff" many of us are led to believe it is.

In fact, figuring out how to sell Samuel Adams "turned out to be the most intellectually challenging thing that I had encountered in business," Koch said.

"We've been culturally trained to think that selling is an ignoble activity — but I learned, against all my expectations, that done right, it is very noble. You are helping the customer achieve their objectives, so you have to learn to listen and empathize."

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