Alum whose career promotes “Spirits” pours passion into investing in student ventures

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In 1971, Joe Fisch went directly from college into the premium alcoholic beverage industry and has had a highly successful, four-decades-long career which included founding his own beverage company, United States Beverage LLC, and becoming its president and CEO. 

After earning his business degree focused on management, Fisch went to Joseph E. Seagram and Sons (JES) and entered the management training program.  According to Fisch, “JES was the largest wine and spirits producer and marketer in the world. The program enabled me to travel the country on specific assignments and report back to company presidents and division vice presidents. It was a ‘produce or get out’ culture which I enjoyed. The program started with fifteen trainees that eventually graduated three.”

Fisch spent the next 25 years at Seagram, serving in numerous executive positions, including president, before founding United States Beverage in 1997. The BGSU graduate sees the global beverage industry as extremely competitive, with his company going up against giants like Anheuser-Busch InBev, Miller/Coors, and Boston Beer, to name a few.   

“We have been able to establish a leading position in our industry and are well respected by our competitors and customers,” states Fisch. “There is tremendous action and competition from small and large companies daily. Consumer trends change quickly. Being a smaller player, we (US Beverage) must be out in front of trends. If you let your organization take its foot off the pedal for one moment, you will be left behind. Fortunately we have won more battles than lost.”

One of the factors that keeps his company competitive, Fisch says, is measuring consumer trends. “Today's legal drinking-age consumer is quite different from the previous generation - less loyal and very experimental. High-end beer, crafts, and imports, as well as craft spirits are becoming a larger part of their platform. High-end crafts and imports represent nearly 30% of all dollars spent in the industry. Ten years ago they represented less than half of that figure. While these trends are very positive, it is increasingly difficult to recruit a loyal, everyday consumer.”  

With the growth of craft beer, Fisch says US Beverage is positioned well for the future. “Currently we are witnessing a shakeout in the craft category and additional growth coming into the import category. There has been an over-expansion in craft so naturally the bloom eventually will subside. We are bullish with the next wave of high-end imports.”

Fisch credits his college experience for being well prepared and confident to succeed. “My time and education at the University has had a great effect on my career and life. I came to Bowing Green from a suburb of NYC. Not a lot of New Yorkers knew of Bowling Green, so it proved to be an invaluable experience. My joy and education came from my classmates, fraternity brothers, and faculty.” He even met the love of his life in college, his wife of 42 years, Gayle Lynn Grow, which makes them Falcon Flames.

Fisch was so thankful for his college experience that he decided to take his executive experience and give back to his alma mater by investing in student startups as an Alumni Investor of The Hatch program, developed by the Hamilton Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, which is a college version of “Shark Tank.” Fisch also provides his entrepreneurial expertise as an advisory board member to the Center.

“I love the Hamilton Entrepreneurial Center and what Dean Ray Braun and Kirk Kern have done to build the program. The Hatch is a sensation for the University and one that I support a great deal. All of the investors, mentors, and administration are there for the students.”  

He adds, “What is needed most is to give the Hatchlings the confidence and financial support to go forward while putting things in their proper perspective. Not all ideas will be successful, but it is the journey/experience that is most valuable and educational.”

Fisch and others have generously invested thousands of dollars into student business ideas. In fact, the Alumni Investors, as a whole, have committed nearly $500,000 to support student business ideas through The Hatch program.

“Since the beginning of The Hatch, we have seen a vast improvement of ideas, strategies and presentations,” states Fisch. “The 2016 HATCH was extraordinary as we are still working and investing with a number of Hatchlings. Their time spent with ‘Balance’ has helped create strong opportunities for two-three ideas to go to market. However, the primary and most important outcome is the experience, knowledge and confidence that is gained during the process.”

Fisch’s passion for entrepreneurship and achievements in innovation were recognized in 2013 when he was inducted into the prestigious Hamilton Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame. This select group of entrepreneurs have distinguished themselves as highly successful business innovators.

For inspiration to student entrepreneurs, Fisch suggests reading two books about successful business journeys - “Shoe Dog” written by Nike founder and board chairman Phil Knight and “Pour Your Heart Into It” by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz who describes the business principles that launched his iconic coffee giant.

According to Fisch, “The consistent themes when viewing a successful new venture are passion and hard work. At times it is painful, other times rewarding, at all times it is hard work that is led by the belief in the idea or product and passion for success.”