Dan: The simple answer of why I got into the businesses is that I love beer.

The scene was the same in the US and the seventies and eighties it was light yellow lagers coast to coast there was no choice in beer.

So, I started talking with a college classmate of mine and said to me, what do you think about leaving your banking job and opening a brewery here in Boston? And decided to join him and went out and raised $430,000 to start a brewery on the waterfront in Boston.

Our first product was Harpoon Ale back in the mid 1980s but in 1993 our summer seasonal was Harpoon IPA and the next year the outcry was we had to make it year-round. So, we brought it back as a summer seasonal, then just kept making it and it took off.

Back in the summer of 2014 we had been working on an ESOP transaction. They stand for employee stock ownership plan.

Rick: An ESOP is the shares in the company transform from a existing owner to the employees. It's no different than any other sort of stock plan except the employees are actually the beneficiaries of the plan.

Dan: The ESOP transaction could not have happened without bank partners and JP Morgan they have the deepest expertise and getting ESOP leverage, ESOP transactions completed.

Rick: JP Morgan Chase adds value to middle market companies because we help them with treasury services, we help them with capital, we helped them with international needs.

Jamie Dimon: We bank companies for long period of time, we get to know them in their communities. We're not fair-weather friends, but it's particularly fun to watch a company like this from out of nowhere, you know, grow out of the ground and build something.

Dan: You have banks that are truly partners to businesses and individuals can make a great deal of difference in people's lives.

I think we've seen that at Harpoon, and I think JP has been, they're kind of right alongside with us.

We wanted to be a Boston brewery. I think New England is a really proud region. We've always just kind of been a New England company. Always been proud of our deep involvement in the community.

Rick: Well middle market companies like Harpoon are essential to a community because they provide jobs. Their employees live in the community. So, they create that ecosystem.

Dan: Our festival we have 500,000 people visit us at our two breweries every year. So, we really are about not just the beer, but bringing people together around beer.

And so it just lends itself. Love beer, love life. And really make things better. And so that's kind of where that motto came from. And we try to live it every day.


It was a July day in 2014, and some 200 employees of Harpoon Brewery had assembled in the company's Beer Hall on the Boston Seaport. What would usually have been a lively gathering was clouded by an air of nervousness as employees eyed the strangers in suits lining the walls—lawyers and bankers who had been visiting CEO Dan Kenary with increasing frequency in recent months. Everyone knew how crowded the craft beer market had become and how common it was for independent brewers to sell to investors or a competitor. Would they be next?

Kenary then got onstage. He'd brought everyone together, he said, to announce the new owners of Harpoon.

"You could've heard a pin drop at that point," he recalled. "And then I said: 'I'd like you to turn to the person next to you and shake their hand. You are now all the owners of 48% of Harpoon.' The place erupted."

Kenary describes it as one of his most rewarding moments in the three decades since he founded Harpoon with two college friends. The three were originally inspired by the rich, varied beer culture they experienced together while backpacking around Europe. At the time, light yellow lagers dominated the American market, but Kenary’s love of beer pushed him to leave a job in banking to be at the vanguard of the U.S. craft beer movement.

A succession plan for the passionate

The wild cheers from his staff on that summer day in the Harpoon Beer Hall were validation that Kenary had made the right decision to transfer ownership of the company through an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP).

As a succession plan, ESOPs can be an especially good fit for owners looking to maintain some independence and reward their people—which is what made it such a natural extension of the participatory, engaged culture of Harpoon.

Harpoon chose JPMorgan Chase to lead and help finance its ESOP transaction after Kenary convinced his partner and other Harpoon investors that it was the best decision for the company.

The expertise of JPMorgan Chase’s ESOP Advisory Group immediately set them at ease about their decision. "The ESOP community is small," Kenary said. "So you'd say, who should we talk to? And the name that would always come up was JPMorgan Chase."

Rooted in community

One of the individuals in the Beer Hall that summer day was Rick MacDonald, New England Region Manager for Middle Market Banking, and someone who could appreciate why the company needed to maintain its local ownership.

"Harpoon is a Boston institution,” he explained. “It was important to make the ESOP work to keep the company’s culture in place."

Homegrown, middle market companies like Harpoon play a critical role in fueling their local economies.

"We bank companies for long periods of time and we get to know them, we're in their communities," said Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. "It's particularly fun to watch a company like [Harpoon] grow out of the ground and build something."

Putting people at the center

While Kenary is the CEO steering the company through what has become a fiercely competitive craft beer market, he says his staff is the beating heart of the company. "If we treat our people well, they're going to treat our customers well and it's going to be reflected in everything that we do."

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