Brian Kohlbeck, CFO Phillips Distilling Company

Brian Kohlbeck, CFO Phillips Distilling Company

Brian Kohlbeck, CFO of Phillips Distilling Company, has over 25 years of financial leadership experience across a wide range of industries, including consumer packaged goods, retail and apparel. Brian is an Air Force veteran, served as Program Manager for a special operations aircraft program and a stealth cruise missile program. Following the Air Force, Brian has had a successful finance career touching many areas including: leading several acquisitions at Pillsbury, launching new business models at Best Buy, including Magnolia Home Theater, successfully spinning off Lands’ End from Sears as a public company, and leading the sale of Gander Mountain to Camping World. He successfully navigated COVID at Phillips as interim CEO in 2020. His “values-based servant leadership” style and commitment to lead with authenticity and integrity made Scouts Talent curious to learn more…

If you could try a different job for a day, what would you choose?

College football coach. I love college football – never a fall or winter Saturday when college football is not on our TV. Especially BIG 10 football. It’s amazing to see the results of a great college football coach, given the myriad of challenges they face. From recruiting the right talent, to training that talent, to inspiring a competitive and winning spirit, to driving individual and team execution with precision. All with players who are only with you for 3-4 years and who have to balance athletics, academics and a social life. I would love the challenge! Go Badgers!

What advice would you give someone starting out in your industry?

No matter what industry you chose – demonstrate an immense intellectual curiosity and learn as much as you can every day. Go deep. Ask questions. Be analytical. Obsess over the details that others ignore. Furthermore, understanding how the industry works from a “systems” perspective will give you a view many don’t spend the time to understand.

What is your mantra?

From one of my favorite movies (Dead Poets Society) …CARPE DIEM! Seize the day!

How do you get yourself out of a slump?

Focus on something else. Give your mind a mental break. Take time to recharge. I love to cycle – indoors and outdoors. It clears my mind and provides focus.

What companies or leaders do you admire?

Amazon – always 10 steps ahead. They are always reinventing. Always looking for a better mousetrap. Apple – the customer is always first. They are obsessed with designing for the customer experience.

What has been the biggest shift you’ve noticed in your industry in the last decade?

Our industry has seen three seismic shifts. First distributor consolidation. Gone are the days of family owned, local distributors. Today our distributor partners are large, growth-oriented companies. Secondly, the amazing growth of ready-to-drink products has exceeded everyone’s predictions. White Claw led the way. Beer followed out of necessity to regain share. Spirits represent the third wave. Lastly, whiskey and tequila have undergone a strong resurgence and are category growth leaders, after RTDs. Celebrity endorsements have helped fuel this growth, as well as the growth of craft cocktails.

Who has been most instrumental in your career?

My family. A career is a “team sport.” Without a strong family support system, you won’t be successful professionally.

What is your go-to celebration meal, drink or tradition?

A Douglas & Todd old fashioned. Phillips Distilling launched a Minnesota bourbon, made at Minnesota’s oldest distillery, several years ago. Hands down, the best bourbon in an old fashioned. Growing up in Wisconsin, you can’t celebrate a special occasion without an old fashioned. Cheers!


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