Trailblazing Craft Beer Maker Kim Jordan Steps Down At New Belgium

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Kim Jordan New Belgium Brewing
Kim Jordan, co-founder and CEO of New Belgium Brewing, started the company with her then husband Jeff Lebesch in 1991.

Kim Jordan says she's had some "wistful moments" since she stepped down this month from her role as CEO at New Belgium Brewing.

It was 1991 when Jordan and her former husband Jeff Lebesch took a big gamble and started making beer in their basement in Fort Collins. Today, the company they created is the fourth-largest craft brewer in the country.

"This has been a life's work. I've grown up doing this...and so there are wistful moments where I wonder what it's going to be like," said Jordan. "And then there are also moments when I'm that person clicking their heels in the hallway."

When the two started making beer, Jordan cut down on her hours as a social worker and Lebesch quit his job as an electrical engineer. Jordan says she doesn't remember spending a lot of time worrying about the future; she just didn't want to have regrets.

"I'm not sure we thought about [whether we were] going to succeed," said Jordan. "We thought more about how we'd feel if we never tried."

Jordan says she's been amazed at the growth in craft brewing over the last five years. In 2010, she says, there were 1,800 craft breweries in the United States. Today, there are more than 4,000.

Part of the reason the industry has taken off is that people have become more discerning about their food -- and drink, she says: "We've known for a long time that high-flavored beer made by artisans and independently- owned breweries was something that was really a social movement."

Jordan is known for her innovative approach to her workforce. Since the beginning, she and Lebesch included employees in the company's financial decision-making. In 2012, New Belgium became 100-percent employee-owned.

Christine Perich, who's been president and chief operating officer at New Belgium, is replacing Jordan as CEO, although Jordan says she will continue to be involved in the company's strategic decisions and in developing New Belgium's portfolio of beers.