Applied Information Management

The AIM Alumni Project: Working with Information

The AIM Program continues its series of profiles about the professional work of graduates. The goal is to explore the diversity of work of the information manager and to examine how the field is evolving.

AIM alumni who wish to submit a profile should send an e-mail to the AIM Program at, or call us at 800-824-2714, and we'll send you a suggested framework. To date, profiles have been provided by Joel Tachau ('07), Linda Ballas ('05), Peter Battan ('98), Travis Luckey ('09), Connie Atchley ('10), Michael Wright ('06), Hope Angel ('11), Brandon Gatke (’08), and Scott Fenton (’95).

A Brewery and Project Management—An Interview with Michael Wright ('06), owner and brewer, The Commons Brewery

Michael Wright ('06), owner and brewer, The Commons Brewery

What prompted you to begin brewing beer?

I started homebrewing about six to seven years back after being introduced to it by a friend. I was hooked instantly and the hobby grew over time to what it is today.

On your website, you talk about what inspires your beer. What inspired you to start The Commons Brewery? How did the name come about?

Simply put, starting The Commons Brewery was all about following a passion. This is a simple concept we hear about for the vast majority of our lives but so often we have a lengthy list of reasons why we can't, or shouldn't do it. There comes a time, and this was true for me, when you have to take a leap and go for it. So many clichès, but all of them are dead on.
The name is meant to bolster the concept that the people and conversation that occur when you gather around beer are the most important thing. In many ways the beer should be secondary to the interaction you have with family, friends, and neighbors.

Are you splitting time between the brewery and another job, or is The Commons Brewery your main focus?

I slice my waking hours up for my family, my day job, and the brewery. I've been working in information technology (IT) for a little more than ten years, most recently as a project manager (PM) for Multnomah County. My degree in Applied Information Management (AIM) has helped me grow my career over that time. After my duties as a PM are complete for the day, I make my way to the brewery and put in a few hours there—so evenings and weekends. I carve out time to spend with my family too, but suffice it to say, they are very supportive of my venture.

What are the short and long term goals for The Commons Brewery? Is this a hobby that aims to grow into a mainstay?

Short term goals for the brewery are quite modest: Establish a core set of regular customers and produce the best beer we can. We need to establish a regular and repeatable production schedule. That includes planning our brew schedule at least a couple months out (if not more), so we can procure our ingredients for just-in-time delivery. We have a very small space and limited resources, so we have to be efficient and smart about how we operate. We are starting to bottle our beers, but still have a lot of work to do on that front.
Longer term goals include establishing a small customer footprint in California, Washington, Idaho (we are already in Boise), and British Columbia, and, moreover, for cash flow to stabilize and allow us to focus on making high quality, interesting beers.

Who are your customers? How are you reaching them?

Aside from a handful of restaurants and beer bars in Boise, all of our customers are local to the Portland Metro area. We started out in tap houses, beer bars, brewpubs, and restaurants. Currently, we are putting forth an effort to expand our restaurant footprint. We really believe our beers pair well with food, and we want to be able to show people that in some of the best restaurants in town.

Do you have a logo or marketing tagline you are using? If so, how did those come about?

Our logo is very simple, and reflects the humble nature of our business. The tag line we use is: "Gather around beer." This speaks to the camaraderie and interaction that occurs while you drink the beer.

How do you spend your work time at the Brewery?

I have two employees right now that help make the business run. As I mentioned previously, I still have a full-time day job and, as such, simply cannot do everything.
Sean Burke handles the vast majority of the brewing side of the business, while Josh Grgas handles sales, distribution and mans the tasting room two nights a week. Both Sean and Josh are smart, well-rounded individuals with great palettes and a passion for beer.
Most of my time is spent assisting them and offering the vision, guidance, and business side of the equation. I get into the brewery as often as I possibly can, which turns out to be every day.

How do you measure success in your role?

Success in my role is measured by Sean and Josh's ability to do what they do best—to bring clarity to the vision, and enable us to reach that vision. It is not measured by dollars or widgets. I firmly believe if we can execute our vision, the money will follow.

Are there more people doing this kind of work now, than there were five or ten years ago?

Yes, a lot more. The craft beer industry has exploded over the past five years and is currently booming. Craft beer continues to steal market share from the big three (Budweiser, Miller, Coors), but still claims less than 10% market share overall.

How do you stay current in the field? (Resources, organizations, journals, etc.)

We do read the available journals. We are members of the Craft Brewers Association, Oregon Brewers Guild, and Master Brewers of Association of the Americas. There are regular conferences that we attend and, as often as we can, we collaborate with our colleagues.

How do you use your AIM education in support of your work?

AIM helped establish and bolster a firm base of business and leadership skills that I use every day as a PM and in the brewery business. It was a tremendous resource.

POSTED: February 6, 2012