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Going home to create the next big beer

An alum’s two passions – beer and his home state of Colima – unite in Cervecería de Colima, Mexico’s second-largest independent brewery.
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Esteban at his brewery. Image from Redes Comerciales. No copyright infringement intended.

It’s summertime in the Northern Hemisphere, and many of us are looking forward to spending languorous evenings on sunny outdoor patios with a cold drink. For Esteban Silva (MEX 04-06, 08-13), that’s called his job.

Well, partly, anyway. Six years ago, Esteban left the Firm with an idea: to create a refreshing lager that would evoke his home state of Colima. A year later, joined by two colleagues, he launched the brewery Cervecería de Colima, which uses “science and art” to create a variety of craft beers.

Esteban spoke with us recently about the genesis of the business, why it’s a source of local pride, and how he’s giving back to his community.

Tell us a little bit about Cervecería de Colima.

Cervecería de Colima, or the Colima Brewing Company, started operations in August 2014. We are located in the tropical foothills of Mexico's most active volcano and are surrounded by mango and rice plantations, very close to the entrance of the city of Colima.

We have 63 shareholders, seventeen of whom are McKinsey alumni. We raised $2 million in the first round of investments, and we became the second largest independent brewery in Mexico in only four years. It has been really, really fun.

The craft beer revolution is just starting in Mexico, so the timing of our launch was good. We are present in most of Mexico and last year we started exporting to the U.S. and France.

There have been two great stories about beer in Mexico so far: The first is Corona, and the second is Dos Equis. We want to write the third big story about Mexican beer – one that is independent and high quality, with a brewery that is connected to the community.

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Volcán de Colima. Image from the Cervecería de Colima website.

You have a background in economics and you then had a nine-year career at McKinsey. Starting a brewery isn’t the most obvious next move. What went into your decision?

The first reason is my homeland state of Colima, Mexico’s smallest state. I'm very passionate about it. I talk about it so much that for my first few years at McKinsey, my nickname was “Colima.” Everybody called me that – most of my colleagues didn’t even know my real name.

The second reason is that ever since I was young (I don't want to say how young!) I have really enjoyed beer. This brewery was a way to mix the two passions.

I first had the idea of creating a beer called “Colimita,” which means “little Colima.” I discussed this with Andrés Castillo (MEX 08-14), a former Firm colleague. We then shared the idea with Jorge Zebadua (MEX, NYO 08-12). We researched the market and the trends, and we realized that the craft beer revolution was about to start in Mexico and that the timing was correct. We made a very basic business plan and found that there was willingness to invest in the idea.

I talked with my office manager and with the Partner that I was working with and told them my plan. They thought I was a little crazy, but they were supportive. A couple months later, in August 2013, I left McKinsey, and returned to Colima almost twenty years after leaving for college.

What’s a typical day like for you?

The first thing that I do is to review sales on different distribution channels. I check Instagram, Facebook, and Untappd, which is a platform where users rate beers and share information. It's a way to be in direct touch with consumers and get insights on how the brand is doing at the street level. I joke that I'm the social media manager as well as the CEO.

Something cool about being the CEO of a brewery is that you are able to test every batch of new experiments. A brewer might show up at my desk and say, "Hey, Esteban, do you want to try this new beer?" In the evening, every employee of the brewery is entitled to have a free beer in the beer garden. We do this around 6:30 every night. It's a good time to talk with other team members and hear ideas on how to do things better.

I travel about one week a month to Mexico City, Guadalajara, and other relevant markets to have conversations with our clients. It's important to be in direct contact not only with the clients but also with the consumers – to chat with them in bars and restaurants to see how our beers are being received.

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Colima beer. Image from the Cervecería de Colima website.

What are you most proud of regarding the brewery’s success?

In less than five years we have created a brand and a company that is a source of pride for the city and the people of Colima. Seeing Colimita in fancy restaurants in Cancun, Tijuana and Mexico City – and now in California and Europe – is a source of pride. Every award that we receive in national and international competitions is like winning the World Cup for the people of Colima. A part of Colima is in every beer we brew and sell.

I'm also proud to be able to implement some of the things that I learned during my time in the Firm's Social Sector Practice. We have done wonderful things in the company in spite of our relatively small size. We have a program, Martes de Causas y Colectivos, where we give away some of the profits of our beer gardens to different NGOs in the community. So far, we have supported more than one hundred NGOs.

We are also about to launch a very ambitious reforestation program along with two other foundations in the foothills of the volcano. The plan is to plant roughly 1% of the state territory. It's good for the business and it's good for the community – and it's something that I track directly to my days at McKinsey. We helped clients in the design and implementation of strategies to increase their social impact, which also had an impact on their business.

When you look back at the end of your career, what would you like to see?

I would like to see a happy man with a beer in hand, proud that I have been able to bring high-quality beer to consumers, and value for our stakeholders.

I also want to have created career paths and development for our team members and value for our community. I would like Colima to be even better because of Cervecería de Colima.

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LEARN MORE

Read about Cervecería de Colima’s beers

Watch an interview with Esteban and his fellow alums Andrés Castillo and Jorge Zebadua (in Spanish)

Read more on the Cervecería de Colima site.

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