Chris Smith '03 talks about leaving a secure job in finance to launch a new enterprise.
In 2012, Chris Smith ’03 left his job as a Financial Analyst at J.P. Morgan in Boston to follow a dream he and a friend had shared years before. As seniors at William & Mary College, Smith and Robby Willey talked passionately about opening a brewery, but the two instead graduated and went on to land jobs in finance, and that was that.
Smith, who married his Martlet sweetheart Erin McInerney ’03, revisited the idea with Willey in 2010, and the dream was sparked anew. Now, they are getting ready to see their passion project some to fruition, as The Virginia Beer Company is currently renovating a new space in Williamsburg, VA and is set to officially launch in early 2016.
Smith stepped away from the renovations to answer a few questions about how this dream became a reality, his innovative plans for the brewery, and how his experience at Westminster helped him along the way.
How did you start The Virginia Beer Company?
I’d been working for J.P. Morgan in New York City and then Boston, but I was beginning to feel like I wanted to do something else. A friend and I had talked about opening a brewery in college, and a few years later we realized that we were both looking to move on from our current jobs and ready to make it happen.
Why a brewery?
When you work in finance, you do your job every day but you never really see the end result. With beer, you get to actually see people enjoy it, which is really satisfying.
What kind of beer will you be brewing?
Our model emphasizes variety. People love choices and trying new things, so we bought two different brewing systems – a large production system and a smaller-scale pilot system – with the plan of constantly rotating new recipes and trying new things.
Did your experience at Westminster help in any way as you started this new venture?
I always tell people this about Westy – it prepared me to present to potential investors in a very polished, professional way. I was a Black and Gold Tour Guide and on the Prefect Board, so that helped. The school does a great job of getting students to feel comfortable speaking with adults. It has a lot to do with how the faculty and staff treat students.
Do you keep in touch with any of your former teachers?
I keep in touch with Mr. Philip, who was my advisor - he’s even visited me in Virginia. I still keep in touch with Scott Stevens as well. In fact, he put me in contact with some Westminster alumni who gave me helpful guidance when I was starting the business.