Lisa Zimmer: Beer Culture Specialist, MillerCoors

If Lisa Zimmer were to hand you her business card, chances are you’d look at it, see her title and then proceed to pick your jaw up off the floor. While many places now tout kegs on tap as work perks, Lisa’s office is on another level – at MillerCoors as the company’s beer culture specialist.

In this role, which she built for herself after starting as a senior assistant in 2009, Lisa works as the face of MillerCoors – providing social media strategy and influencer outreach for the brand. But get this, at the time, Lisa, now a beer connoisseur, didn’t even drink beer. She actually disliked it but was drawn to the company’s culture. And she now she serves as the face of the company at industry events, educates others about the MillerCoors portfolio and how its beers are brewed, and even teaches others how to brew beer in their own homes.

Lisa says she works in a “pretty outgoing culture” and says, “A lot of our decisions get made over beer. We have big company meetings where we’ll be at a concert because we’re working with a musician, or at a sporting event. It’s a fun industry.”

But the personal side of Lisa understands that to have a happy work life, you also need a balanced home life. “While my job is fun, you still have to have your life and your time,” she says. “And I’m grateful to work at a place where that’s 100% fine.”

And while you can catch her tweeting her heart out on all things beer and life, this work-hard/play-hard believer understands the importance in slowing down. When she doesn’t have to be somewhere else, you’ll find her relaxing on her patio on the 51st floor of a high-rise. Not exactly a bad way to celebrate a day well spent, and not a bad setting for a Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale either.

What was your very first job?

Coming out of college, I went to work for the TJX Companies [owners of Marshalls, TJ Maxx and HomeGoods] as an allocations analyst. And, at the same – because, you know, sometimes that first year out of school you’re not making a ton of money – my roommate and I had both had part-time jobs at Barnes & Noble. I worked at the info desk.

I was actually reminiscing about it recently — Man, I loved that job, pre-smartphone days, standing at the info desk. People would come up and say, “I saw this book with a purple cover on Regis & Kathie Lee. Can you help me find out what it was?” I loved the problem-solving aspect of that Barnes & Noble gig.

What’s something you learned in either job that still sticks with you today?

I think it would be the Barnes & Noble job. When you help somebody out with a problem, it can change the whole tone [of the situation] if they have a good experience with you.

It also puts me in a better mood to help somebody — that’s something that’s stuck with me throughout my career. If I can bite something off and take care of it, and have a good interaction with somebody, maybe the other things that were weighing me down suddenly don’t seem so insurmountable anymore.

That’s an amazing perspective! How did you find that next step on your career path after leaving your first job?

I moved to Chicago after working at TJX and worked at a market research company for four years. I found that job through some connections and really liked the group of people I worked with directly. Through that, I got exposure to a lot of CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies in Chicago. We were doing a lot of focus group type work, so I had a good idea of the landscape.

From there, I went to work for Wrigley in an assistant role. I worked for a great team of guys at Wrigley who ran marketing projects, and through that, they created a job where I was doing international meeting planning. That gave me the idea that I don’t have to necessarily move into a role that exists, but if I do something really well and there’s a need, then there would be an opportunity to expand on that.

Then, after Mars purchased the company, all of the global roles went away. Working with headhunters, I was very specific about what I wanted in my next job: I wanted to work for somebody at a high level, but do more than type memos and get the coffee. [I wanted to work for] somebody who wanted someone with business acumen and who could make their lives easier. And, I wanted to work in an interesting industry.

When the opportunity to work in beer came up, I was all over it. And the funny part was, I was not a beer drinker! My friends were shocked that a beer company would even hire me.

Since then, I’ve taught beer education and home brewing classes in Chicago, and hosted beer tastings and other educational events around the company. I tell people I’m more qualified to do this than anybody, because I’ve made that trip from zero to 100. And MillerCoors really gave me the runway and tools to do that.

Once you were in the company, how did you navigate your way into your current position as beer culture specialist?

When MillerCoors started forming their craft and import division, Tenth and Blake, one of the gentlemen I supported was part of that process, and I stuck close to him. The nuances of the community around beer were really interesting to me, and he supported my interest. He invited me to meetings and let me help get things organized.

He and I were at an event a couple months later, and I was using social media, primarily Twitter, to communicate with other breweries. I was showing him the different bloggers I was following on Twitter – which, seven years ago, was a newer thing – and he said, “I don’t know what you’re doing or how you found these people, but when we get this new group started, I think we need someone to do what you’re doing.” So I said, “Okay, great!”

As they got closer to launching the company, they created a role for me. This role encompassed that personal communication with the beer community, as well as took advantage of the event-planning background I brought from Wrigley. So I had a job helping manage special events, participation in festivals, and monthly beer tastings in Chicago and Milwaukee to help introduce smaller breweries to the general population.

That has morphed over time: I recently made the move into MillerCoors communications in the last six months. Tenth and Blake had an established identity and a community, and didn’t need me as much anymore.

I work at a great company and I work with great people. I think if you see a need that needs to be filled and you can make a case for it — and, even better, suggest yourself for the job – then do it. It goes back to my days of working at the info desk at Barnes & Noble or making a CMO’s life easier because I remembered he likes an aisle seat on the plane – all that stuff adds up.

What’s the culture like at MillerCoors? What about it drew you to the company and kept you there for over seven years?

When I was working as an assistant, [those at the top] said, “We know you’re a cultural fit, so we’re going to match you up with people until there’s a good, mutual match.” And I loved that. It showed me they had a defined culture.

I think it’s a pretty outgoing culture. We do make and sell beer; so even on a bad day, we’re still working in the beer business.

It’s also social. A lot of our decisions are made over beer. We have big company meetings where we’ll be at a concert because we’re working with a musician, or at a sporting event. It’s a fun industry in general.

Now, you can lean into that as much as you want — you can also go to work and then go home. There’s balance and flexibility, and not a lot of pressure to participate. It’s the best of both worlds.

What is something about your job that others may not realize?

It’s fun. I get to travel and I get to do things I enjoy. But, it is still a job.

It’s important to maintain a piece of myself outside of that. For someone like me, or some of our sales folks, a lot of social and personal time can bleed into work. It’s essential to have that separation and say, “You know what? It’s Saturday night, and I’m going to go to this outdoor film with my friends and not going to think about work.” Even if your job’s really fun, I feel it’s important to have something that’s yours.

And, you never know what the future will bring. I loved working at Wrigley, and then another company acquired them, and there wasn’t a job there for me anymore. If I had been married to that job, then that could’ve been devastating.

So, while my job is fun, you still have to have your life and your time. And I’m grateful to work at a place where that’s 100% fine.

You’ve had a wealth of experience at different companies and, now, MillerCoors. I’m sure you’ve gone through many learning lessons along the way. Is there something you’ve learned that you could share with our readers?

I immediately thought of this moment at Wrigley. I was working for the global marketing lead, who was a really busy guy with a lot on his plate.

There was something that I needed from him one day. I followed him into the elevator and started going into what it was. He looked at me and said, “Lisa, not now.” I was probably about 25 at the time, and I kind of slunk away. I went back to my desk and felt wounded by it.

He came back and everything was fine, but it made me reflect on my own working style – I tend to get really wound up. I like to work in immediacy. I don’t like to have any unread emails at the end of the day. Ninety-five percent of the time this works great for me, but sometimes, it’s important to remind myself to step away for a moment. Can it wait until Monday?

So many times when I look at my list, either A. The answer suddenly presents itself to me, or B. I’m a lot calmer about it.

For him at that moment, it wasn’t a priority, even though it was “on my list.” It’s important to take a deep breath and remember that not everything is life and death.

[Jumping off that point] Your job is your job. If you’re lucky to do something you enjoy and work with great people, good on you. But sometimes you need to be able to go home, put your feet up, read a trashy magazine and have a glass of wine. [She laughs.]

Where do you see the beer industry headed in the next five years?

It’s growing gangbusters right now. We are seeing some consolidation though, and I think we’re close to 5,000 breweries. We’re seeing some larger breweries buy smaller breweries, and we’ve been part of that as well.

It’s been kind of an emotional time for the beer community to see this big growth. They have a lot of pride for their buddy down the street who used to home brew, who’s now started a brewery that’s doing pretty well … and then it gets sold. They sort of feel like something’s been taken from them. The conversation that happens around that has been interesting.

I don’t know if we’re going to be looking at the commoditization of craft beer. To a degree, it’s already that. I can’t predict; but I think as people become more educated about the category, we’re going to see those conversations changing.

With a company like ours, reinforcing how many people we employ in the U.S., the measures we take for sustainability, our diverse workforce … I think those things are going to start coming into play. I hope that as drinkers become more educated and comfortable with those larger brewing companies being in their refrigerator, those efforts we’ve made will start to play into their decision-making.

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I’d love to grab a beer with:

My dad, who passed away last year. He was a really great guy and I’d love to sit and have a beer with him.

My favorite quote:

This was my senior yearbook quote: “Today has been a good day. You have learned something, and I have learned something. Too bad we didn’t learn it sooner; we could’ve gone to the movies instead.” It’s from Balki on the TV show Perfect Strangers. I like the idea that, every day you’re going to learn stuff, but don’t forget to make time for play.

If I could tell my 30-year-old-self one thing it would be:

Never sign up for a Tinder account! [She laughs.]

My favorite show to binge-watch is:

Broad City.

I can’t live without:

My phone.

My favorite way to unwind:

I like to sit out on my balcony. I have the pleasure of living on the 51st floor of a high-rise. I have a little couch, and I could sit out there for hours.

I feel my best:

When I’m getting shit done!

I think if you see a need that needs to be filled and you can make a case for it -- and, even better, suggest yourself for the job – then do it.