According to actor Jack Nicholson, “beer is the best damn drink in the world”, and there will be many beer drinkers around the globe who’d agree. Ben Summons, CEO of Fermentum, is one of them. ‘Born and raised in Byron Bay’, Fermentum is the holding company for a family of operating entities including the award-winning, independent brewer Stone & Wood Brewing Co, IPA specialist brand Fixation, Granite Belt Cider Co, farmhouse ale brand Forest For The Trees and sales and distribution company Square Keg.
The company’s not-for-profit venture, inGrained Foundation sits under the Fermentum umbrella, supporting local grassroots and social charities. Approachable and down-to-earth, Ben is known as one of the good guys. And although he’s worked internationally with Kraft Foods, Mondelez and Foster’s Group, his heart found its spiritual home in this conscious business that puts its people, products and values above all else.
The traditional village brewery was the inspiration for Stone & Wood – simple beer done really well was the goal. “We’ve watched the breweries, previously the hubs of a village, fade over time,” says Ben. “We wanted to bring this back.”
Proudly local and fiercely independent, the company brews handcrafted and approachable beer. Pacific Ale, the brewery’s flagship beer, is consistently one of Australia’s best performing and most popular craft beers.
“We have an unofficial mantra of keeping it simple and taking it slow,” he adds. “We’re not in a rush to get anywhere; we’re playing a long game.”
And Ben is more than happy to be around for the long haul. “I’ve never been anywhere like here,” he enthuses. “The consistency of values aligned with passion means we collectively love what we do, and this creates a real power – it’s like one plus one equals three.”
Stone & Wood is unique in its determination to remain independent. “Independence means so much to us,” Ben stresses. “We are on a 100-year-plus journey building a sustainable and conscious business that creates positive changes and builds communities. It’s much harder to play the long game and achieve your purpose if you don’t have control of your own destiny. We intend to remain independent and we’ll do everything we can to keep it that way. By doing this, we can control the speed we go and the direction we head. We can stay true to our purpose and not be part of someone else’s agenda.
“It’s so much harder to play the long game and achieve your purpose if you don’t have control of your own destiny.”
“The team is emotionally committed to this and I think how we approach our business is appreciated and respected by our customers – they get consistency and authenticity from us,” Ben affirms. “We do innovate and introduce new products, but it’s a steady experience.
“We’re purposeful and diligent so we don’t get ahead of ourselves. Although we’ve been very successful in the past 10 years, we’ve resisted the temptation to think we’ll keep growing as fast.
“We’ve only ever invested in capital as much as we need at the time, so we’re not overexposed on our balance sheet or cashflow. We’ve made deliberate choices to ensure we neither overstretch nor compromise our position.”
The Stone & Wood culture is passionate, creative and connected yet entrepreneurial and purposeful – there’s a spirit that’s pervasive at every touchpoint. It’s as though everyone knows they’re part of creating something epic.
“We ensure the DNA and rituals symbolic of our culture carry through to new team members. Having a ‘no dickhead’ recruitment policy certainly helps,” laughs Ben.
In addition to good salaries, great benefits and professional and personal development opportunities, Stone & Wood offers an employee share scheme to help the team invest in the company and put a little skin in the game.
“We want to share our success and create value for our people,” he says. “The opportunity for co-ownership helps team members to own their own futures.” In fact, 72% of the Stone & Wood team are now owners in the business.
Ben suggests that Stone & Wood could be considered one of the leading progressive businesses in Australia – one that plays a leadership role in promoting conscious business practices.
Stone & Wood sees beer as “a force for good” and believes it’s not enough for a business just to make a profit. Instead, they need to have a positive impact in the way they operate. In 2016, Stone & Wood became a certified B-Corp, an independent accreditation and global movement of businesses working to create a positive impact in the world.
“Our conscious business practices focus on providing value for all our stakeholders,” Ben says. “We created the Stone & Wood wheel of seven stakeholders, which includes the team, our suppliers, our drinkers, the customers, shareholders, the environment, and the community we operate in. We ask ourselves, ‘What does value look like for each of our stakeholders and how do we bring that to life?’ Our wheel is our compass to make sure we’re doing things the right way.”
“We ask ourselves, ‘what does value look like for each of our stakeholders and how do we bring that to life?’”
With suppliers playing an essential part in the Stone & Wood story, many of them have grown with the company from its beginning. “By understanding each other and investing in the relationship, we can create meaningful and enduring value,” says Ben. “Where possible, our suppliers will be values-aligned and local – but regardless, we approach each relationship with the same intention of achieving productive shared value.”
One valued relationship is that with the local Tweed Shire Council, who Stone & Wood worked closely with during the development of their second brewery in Murwillumbah, which produces much of the brand’s volume.
“They always are, and certainly were great partners for us during that critical time on our journey,” he says. “Stone & Wood set out to develop a sustainable brewing business that creates value for all its communities. Playing a role in promoting conscious business practices and bringing to life what we set out to do is immensely satisfying.”
What is it about the company that really captures Ben’s heart? “My true purpose is leaving positive footprints with the people and business I’m part of and Fermentum is providing that opportunity. The combination of great people, a dynamic industry and the variety I enjoy in my role brings me joy. I’m inspired to play my role in stewarding this great young company towards its long-term purpose.”
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