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Harpoon Brewery to become employee-owned

Harpoon Brewery founders Rich Doyle (left) and Dan Kenary (right) settle a Super Bowl bet with Brooklyn Brewery cofound Steve Hindy after the New England Patriots lost to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI.Adam Bailey

The Harpoon Brewery, founded in 1986 on the Boston waterfront by Dan Kenary and Rich Doyle, said Thursday that it will become an employee-owned company as of Aug. 1, with Doyle handing over the role of chief executive to Kenary.

Several of the Boston-based brewer’s shareholders sold 48 percent of its stock shares to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, or ESOP, a kind of trust account for employees. Harpoon said it has 187 full-time workers at its operations in Boston and Windsor, Vt., all of whom will receive shares in the company, said Kenary, who currently manages Harpoon’s operations and finances. The price paid for the minority stake in the company was not disclosed.


“ESOP ownership is a great fit for our industry,” Kenary said. He said senior managers had discussed succession plans for more than two years and turned down several offers from private bidders.

The announcement came as a surprise to Harpoon employees who gathered at the company’s headquarters for a Tuesday evening meeting. Chris Bonacci, a brand manager who has worked for Harpoon for 11 years, said he and other employees would be learning a great deal about the implications of employee ownership over the next week. Still, he said, he expected it to build on the camaraderie among employees.

“In some ways, it’s a big change for us,” Bonacci said. “In some way it’s not much of a change at all.”

With its conversion, Harpoon, the nation’s 12th-largest craft brewery by volume, becomes one of a handful of breweries across the country controlled by employees. Although Kenary declined to discuss financial information, he said Harpoon brewed 205,000 barrels of beer last year and is growing at about 12 percent per year.

Kenary said the company learned more about ESOPs from other New England companies that are organized similarly, including Web Industries in Marlborough, King Arthur Flour in Norwich, Vt., and Hypertherm, a welding equipment manufacturer in Hanover, N.H.


About 6,900 ESOPs are registered with the government, said Loren Rodgers, the executive director of the Oakland, Calif.-based National Center for Employee Ownership. He added that employee-owned companies with an “ownership culture” tended to see increased growth and that breweries were fertile ground for successful ESOPs.

“Individual employees can make a difference in a brewery,” Rodgers said.

Harpoon’s ESOP took out loans to purchase its shares, but Kenary said the loans would be paid back by the brewery, not the employees, over the next five to seven years. After that, he said, the company hoped to transition to complete employee ownership.

“We’ve always been about inclusion and community,” he added. “The great thing for employees is that they don’t pay a penny.”

Kenary, who is 53, said the remaining 52 percent of the company is held by himself, four senior managers, and two outside directors.

Doyle sold all his shares to the ESOP, while a few other shareholders sold portions of their stock, Kenary said.

Doyle, also 53, will assume a part-time role at the brewery, focusing on key marketing and sales initiatives as well as new business development, Harpoon said in a press release. No other changes in the management structure are planned, Harpoon also said.

Jack Newsham can be reached at jack.newsham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheNewsHam.