Peter J. Danchak
    Regional President, Northeast
    Pennsylvania, PNC Bank


    Wendy Yuengling Baker
    Chief Administrative Officer
    D.G. Yuengling & Son, Inc.


Webcast Transcript:

Peter J. Danchak: Hello, and welcome to the first webcast in PNC's 13th Annual Women in Business Week. A week when all of my PNC colleagues from across the country pause to recognize and support the success of women financial decision-makers in the communities we serve. Curating conversations like this one to provide new insights, information, and inspiration from women is one of the many ways we are working to accelerate women's financial equality at PNC.

I'm Pete Danchak, the Regional President for PNC in Northeastern Pennsylvania. And I'm honored and excited to kick off Women and Business Week in conversation with Wendy Yuengling. Wendy represents the sixth-generation of leadership at Yuengling and the first generation of women to lead America's oldest brewery, which is coming up on its bicentennial in just a few years. Let's take a quick look at a video from Yuengling Beer.

Video: D.G Yuengling And Son was founded in 1829 by German immigrant David Gottlieb Yuengling. In the near two centuries that followed, the reigns of the old brewery on Mahantongo Street have passed down through five generations. Each owner leaving their mark on the family business, guiding it through the triumphs and trials of their times to become America's oldest brewery. I haven't been in here in so long where you could actually walk. This is a composition book written in German. Maybe even recipes. It's incredible.

Peter J. Danchak: Yuengling's official name is D.G. Yuengling and Son, and since 1829 there has been five generations of men, including your father, at the helm of what is still a family-owned company until now. Wendy, can you share some of the Yuengling family history with our audience?

Wendy Yuengling Baker: Yeah, sure. I'd be happy to. Thank you for having me, Pete. We've had a long-standing relationship with PNC. Our company goes back 194 years, so I don't know that we've been in business together for that long. But the brewery was founded in 1829 by my great-great-great-grandfather, who immigrated from Germany and settled in the small town of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and built his first brewery.

We were originally called the Eagle Brewery, so we still bear the Eagle logo proudly on our labels today. But over the generations, as family has become involved, we've changed our name from Yuengling Brewery to D.G. Yuengling and Son. And now we are in our fifth and sixth-generation of family ownership.

Peter J. Danchak: Wow, that's incredible. Can you talk about the importance of Pottsville, Pennsylvania? It's a tiny corner of our country that most of our audience probably hasn't heard of and why it remains critical to Yuengling story.

Wendy Yuengling Baker: Yeah, it's our hometown and our roots are here. We all grew up in this area. Our family is here. So, Pottsville is extremely important to us. It is an incredibly hardworking community. And so, we're blessed to have a workforce that lives in and around Pottsville that has been very loyal to our company all these years. And I would say Pennsylvania in general has very loyal, hardworking consumers that we really attribute our longevity to the support of our brands and the successes is very much attributed to our roots here in Pottsville. Now, we do also have a brewery in Tampa, Florida, so we consider that our second hometown. But we've been in Tampa now for a little over 20 years, so not quite as long as Pottsville.

Peter J. Danchak: Wow. Well, statistics show that only 66% of businesses make it past the two-year mark and only about half of those survive beyond five years. You're approaching your 200th year anniversary. And I'm sure every leader in the audience today would like to know the secret to making a business that last as long.

Wendy Yuengling Baker: Yeah, I can't say that I can take credit for 194 years, but we really are fortunate to have generations that have come before us, that have committed to the family business. And I think the secret to our success, we tend to say it's a lot of grit and perseverance and not willing to give up during the tough times. And my dad will be the first one to say a lot of luck is behind our success. But fortunately, there's always been somebody in the family that's kept the business going through the years. My generation, there's four of us that are all actively working in the family business. So, our goal is to keep the business strong and healthy and going into future generations.

Peter J. Danchak: Well, let me ask you this. You talk about challenges, and we just went through an incredible challenge with the COVID pandemic. Can you explain to us how you got through that and what adjustments that you had to make in your business model?

Wendy Yuengling Baker: Yeah, COVID was tough for everyone. It hit our industry hard in that it affected our on-premise business. So, bars, restaurants, taverns, venues all shut down during the pandemic. So that was a big hit to our business. Fortunately, people were buying more in the off-premise channels like the grocery stores, convenience stores, big box stores. So that's certainly helped, but it's changed people's buying habits. But I feel like we were able to pull together, persevere during COVID, and come out strong because you look at it in relation to a lot of the challenges that we've dealt with over the years. So, my great-grandfather had to navigate through prohibition and previous generations had to deal with civil wars and world wars. And so COVID was certainly hard and we really tried to reach out and support our community. So, the hospitality workers that were affected by COVID, the businesses that were shut down during COVID, we just tried to pull together and get to get through it as an industry.

Peter J. Danchak: And speaking of your great-great-great grandfather, everybody wants to know, like where is the recipe kept? And you still have the original recipe?

Wendy Yuengling Baker: So, we do have a lot of our brands that we can attribute back to the early 1800s. Our lager bears similarity to liquids that we made from the beginning. My dad resurrected that recipe in 1987, but we also have several of what we call heritage brands that we know that we've been making since the repeal of prohibition. So, our Lord Chesterfield Ale and our dark brewed porter. Those are original recipes that have been sort of perfected over the years and we continue to make and they're strong parts of our portfolio.

Peter J. Danchak: So, Wendy, let's go back to you and about how it was growing up in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. When was the first time you went to the brewery? Tell us what it was like when you went to college - I always wondered, like if you go to college and you have the last name Yuengling, were you like the most popular person in college? And then when you graduated from college what did you do? I know you had other jobs before you went to work for Yuengling. So, can you expand on some of the things that you did while you were in college? But I want to hear when was the first time you went into the brewery?

Wendy Yuengling Baker: Yeah. So, growing up, my dad didn't actually work for the family business when I was younger. He had a local beer distributorship, so that was my first taste of the industry. And local beer distributors in Pennsylvania are these big buildings with cement floors and pallets of beer and lots of chips and soda. So, my sisters and I would go there a lot and have a blast. We would roller skate around and we would push each other on hand trucks. So that was my first exposure to the world of beer and just how much is out there.

And then when he bought the business in 1985, we started to make more trips down to the brewery with him because he was always in early in the morning, spent the day at work, and then he always went back at night to load trucks. And so we would go back with him and started to see what it was like on the brewery side. And my sisters and I all started working for the family business in the gift shop. So over summers and winter breaks, we would work in the gift shop.

Some of us gave tours, some of us were working the retail side, giving out samples of beer, talking with consumers. And that's when we first started to realize people were coming from all over the country, all over the world to visit America's oldest brewery. And just how powerful the brand was and just what an incredible opportunity it was to be part of a family company that's in its fifth and sixth generation.

I think as a youngster, you don't fully appreciate what an incredible opportunity it is. And so, I went off to college and I did my thing. I was a business major and I worked outside of the business in marketing for the first few years after graduating.

So, I worked in market research, which was good background for what I'm doing now. And then I also worked in advertising, which gave me a good platform to enter the family business. So, I joined in 2004 and I was glad I had the ability to bring that experience with me and contributed to what I'm doing now in the company.

Peter J. Danchak: And what type of jobs did you first do when you entered the Yuengling?

Wendy Yuengling Baker: So, when I first started in the business, I actually didn't live in Pennsylvania, so I worked on the sales side getting to know our distributors in the local markets, starting to work with retailers, putting on promotions, doing beer samplings on Friday nights, building displays, resetting coolers. So that was a really cool experience for me to understand all the work that really goes into selling beer. Everybody thinks that it's this great business and it is. It's awesome, but there's a lot of hard work that goes behind it.

So, I spent the first couple of years on the sales side doing that, and then I transitioned into the marketing side since that's what my background was and that's what I enjoyed. And I started learning what it's like to market for a consumer product and for a brand that has this iconic legacy following.

So, I did that for a couple of years and knew that I wanted to expose myself to as much as I could of the business so that I could learn everything possible. And so, after spending two years in marketing, I then spent two years on the operations side learning how you brew beer, how you package beer, how you ship beer, all the back-end stuff that my dad and my older sister Jennifer are so good at.

And after that I sort of migrated over to the administration side, which to me was really pulling everything together that I had learned. So, it was the administration, the accounting, the finance, the IT, the HR, and then kind of ultimately landing in this role where I'm a part of all that plus sales and marketing. And I really enjoy it. I love what I do here and I get to touch a little bit of everything.

Peter J. Danchak: Do you bring your kids to work?

Wendy Yuengling Baker: Sometimes, I do. Yeah, I do sometimes.

Peter J. Danchak: That's wonderful. Well, when you look back, are you familiar whether there were wives and daughters in leadership positions at Yuengling in the past? Going back 20, 30, 40 years?

Wendy Yuengling Baker: I think we are the first generation of all-girls. So, my parents had no boys. There are no sons to continue it. So, we're fortunate in that we're the first generation of all women to take over the family business. I do think there are probably years or generations where women were involved and we just don't know as much about it, because when my great-grandfather took over the business from his dad, who had passed suddenly, he was in college. So, he was a young man. And there are definitely stories that my great-grandfather's wife was a strong influence on the business as my great-grandfather started to learn it.

So, I think women have always been a part of it as a family influence. But as sixth-generation, we are the first generation of all women to lead the company, and we're very proud of that. We work side by side with our dad every day. We're all in different areas of the business, which is really cool. We've each settled into our own niche, and so it's a pretty cool story that as a fifth and sixth-generation company will be the first generation of female leaders. And you don't see a lot of that, especially in the beer industry.

Peter J. Danchak: Especially in the beer industry. What advice do you have for members of the audience that are working in the family business, either as a family member or an outsider on how - from your own experiences, what you learned working in a family business?

Wendy Yuengling Baker: Yeah, I think having a plan to come in and learn as much as you can and start to earn credibility and respect is important. You've got to put your time in. And I think a lot of people in family businesses grow up in it, and so they inherently do that. But I think it's important to roll up your sleeves and work hard and work side by side with everybody so that people recognize that you are committed.

And I also think that part of any company, whether it's a family business or any business, is coming into it and just being willing to listen and learn and ask questions and go above and beyond to show people that you want to grasp as much as you can. I think that humility is important and over time you'll - you start to get invited into more meetings and you're starting to take leadership roles in projects. And so, you start to build credibility by working hard.

Peter J. Danchak: Makes sense. So, let's change subjects for a minute. What is the Pink Boots Society and how did Yuengling get involved?

Wendy Yuengling Baker: Pink Boots is an organization that promotes women in the industry, and so we're very proud to be a part of it being that sixth-generation for us is all-female. And so, we feel like it's a way to introduce women to the industry, give them the ability to get more education on the brewing side. So, we do a scholarship with Pink Boots, which allows several women in the industry to further their education and become brewers.

And so, like a lot of industries, it's primarily - we're very male-dominated in the beer world. And so, by associating with Pink Boots and supporting the scholarships, we're able to introduce more women to the industry and bring them into the production side.

Peter J. Danchak: That's wonderful. And speaking of Yuengling today, it's so vastly different than it was 20 years ago. When your dad took over the business in 1985, you were producing about 137,000 barrels of beer annually. Today, is it more than 3 million? Can you talk about the growth?

Wendy Yuengling Baker: Yes. So, we're over 2 million barrels now. We started out with one brewery, the old brewery in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, when my dad bought the business. He took it over from his father in 1985. And we probably sold beer in a handful of states. And we slowly started to put together a distributor network. We expanded into new markets. He made the decisions over the years to build another brewery in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. We purchased another brewery in Tampa, Florida. So, we are now in 26 states.

So, we still consider ourselves a regional brewery. We pride ourselves in still having a very family feel to us, but it's grown significantly. So, we're in 26 states and we do over 2 million barrels now. And it's - I don't know that he ever envisioned it would grow to this scale, but he has certainly left his mark on it. And it's pretty cool to see how much growth has happened during his tenure.

Peter J. Danchak: That's incredible growth. And your dad added at the time, over the years, like New beers and updated the packaging, how did that impact the Yuengling brand? Just the packaging and the new brands?

Wendy Yuengling Baker: I honestly think it put us on the map. So, the business struggled during my grandfather's time. So, the 50s, 60s, 70s, that was a really hard time for small regional companies like ours. And we were struggling and my dad just believed in our liquids. And so, when he took over, he introduced a few new brands like our lager and our black and tan, and he introduced a light beer, which we didn't have in our portfolio. And so, he repackaged everything to be more premium. And I think that really put us on the map when our lager brand exploded.

Peter J. Danchak: Well, let's talk about what's going on in the beer industry today as far as consumer trends. Give us a taste of what you live every day in the beer industry.

Wendy Yuengling Baker: Yeah, it's changed a lot. I look back to the mid-80s when my dad bought the business, there might have been 100 breweries. You look at the industry now and with the explosion of craft and small brands, there's over 8,000 breweries.

So, it's gotten much more complex and competitive. And in a lot of ways that helped us in the mid-80s because people started to become interested in craft style beers. And I talked about our Lord Chesterfield Ale and our porter. We've been making craft styles since 1829. And so, when my dad introduced Lager, people viewed that as a craft style beer. It was something different. It was upscale, it had color to it, it was in a green bottle. And so that that helped put us on the map. But it's become very competitive. I think consumer tastes have changed a lot just in the last decade or so.

People are more focused on wellness and what they're putting into their body. There's a bigger focus on drinking less. And so, we've had to adapt to all that. And that's part of how we've evolved our portfolio beyond the brands that my dad introduced. So, he introduced Lager and black and tan and premium light. And over the last, say, decade or so with my sisters and I being an influence on the family business, we've started to introduce products that we like to drink.

So, something that's refreshing and lighter. So, our Golden Pilsner, we just introduced a new beer called Bongo Fizz, which is a pilsner style beer with natural mango flavors. So, you're starting to see consumers wanting fruit in their beer. And so, we're evolving and catering to that.

And even on the wellness side, being conscious of what you're putting into what you're consuming. We introduced our flight brand, which is a low carb, low calorie beer with good taste and very refreshing. And so, I feel like that's kind of been our mark is starting to introduce brands that we personally like to drink as women in the industry.

Peter J. Danchak: And here in the Northeast, we always been fortunate to have access to Yuengling beer. And you mentioned that Tampa - and you're now brewing in Texas and distributing the Midwest and you just opened a brew house and kitchen in Tampa. Can you give us your vision for the continued expansion outside of the Northeast?

Wendy Yuengling Baker: Yeah. So right now, we are - we still have a pocket of New England that we can potentially open. And we have a lot of territory out west that we can open. But I wouldn't say our motivation is to be a national brand. We've always been very methodical and disciplined in how we go to market, and so we want to make sure that our brands are performing well in the states that we're in. And so, we're just going to continue to focus on that.

We do have some innovation in our business model with, as you mentioned, the new restaurant, which is not something we've ever done before. We've never had a hospitality part of our business. So, we have a restaurant down in Tampa that is opening soon. It's called Yuengling Draft House and Kitchen. And that's going to give consumers the opportunity who are traveling down there to come to the brewery, learn a lot more about America's oldest brewery in Tampa, Florida, give you a good portrait of our history and what beers we make and give people an opportunity to learn more about Yuengling.

Peter J. Danchak: Well, that is wonderful and that's exciting. My daughter lives in Tampa, so I can't wait to visit it.

Wendy Yuengling Baker: very soon.

Peter J. Danchak: And when you think about the sixth generation owner, you and your sisters, what would you like your legacy to be when your kids someday take over?

Wendy Yuengling Baker: Yeah, that's a great question. I would say that our dad has definitely instilled a discipline in us and appreciation for the generations that have committed before us, all the hard work and perseverance that it's taken to survive 194 years. And I think he's always been very practical about how we view things. We're not trying to jump into trends. We know that we make good beer and we do it well.

And I think that if we can keep the business healthy for future generations, that to me is our mark on the family story, the family legacy, and give them an opportunity to thrive in the company. And we just want to make good decisions that are right for the long-term as opposed to trying to make short-term decisions that don't necessarily benefit the future generations.

Peter J. Danchak: I know they're in good hands. We started the conversation by talking about the importance of the community to Yuengling, particularly Pottsville. And there's a number of causes that have been particularly important to the company, sustainability, the military, first responders. And these are causes that we care about too at PNC. Would you like to comment on them?

Wendy Yuengling Baker: Yeah, we've always tried to focus on our local community here in Pottsville and down in Tampa. And we've had a particular affiliation with the military just because being America's oldest brewery, we have tremendous respect for the sacrifices that have been made for this country and to give us the ability to sell beer for 194 years is a testament to our military.

So, we have been very closely involved with Team Red, White and Blue and also TAPS Organization, which is the Tragedy Assistance Program. And so, we do as much as we can to support the military and veterans and their families because that's very near and dear to us.

Peter J. Danchak: That's wonderful. Same here at PNC. You also talked about the importance of fresh water to beer making and the commitment to the environment. Can you give us a couple of comments on both of those?

Wendy Yuengling Baker: Yeah. It's 98% of the product, so that how sustainability has always been a big part of what we do. Originally, we had a well in Pottsville that supplied our fresh water source. We've always sort of been practical and environmentally minded in how we recycle things. We have a lot of technology in each of the plants to recycle and reuse, and that's just been part of who we are. Honestly, I think it stems back to sort of the lean years when you were just trying to survive and you had to do things scrappy, and that's become part of our DNA now.

Peter J. Danchak: It makes sense. I'll tell you what, based on the experience that you have had and the knowledge you gained over your career so far, what would you say are the most critical nuggets of advice you could share with women leaders who are on their own journeys right now?

Wendy Yuengling Baker: I think it's very similar to somebody entering a family business. Just go out there and work hard and ask lots of questions. But for women in particular, I would find opportunities to find mentors and align with other women in business because I think networking opportunities like that are so beneficial. You certainly have managers at work that will help develop you, but people that you can align with outside of work is important for women. And I think that collectively we're powerful and I think we can share stories of success to learn from each other. And I personally find that very valuable.

Peter J. Danchak: And we talked about the beer industry being a male-dominated business. For the other women in the audience that are in a similar male-dominated business, is there anything else, advice you could give them similar to the beer industry?

Wendy Yuengling Baker: Yeah, I think just going out there every day and doing your job and doing it well. We're lucky in that coming into the family business, my sisters and I - I don't know that we ever really thought twice about being female and we were never treated differently, thank goodness. I would say just go out there and work hard and do your job and good things do happen.

Peter J. Danchak: Well, that's wonderful. Is there anything else you would like to share with our audience today that we didn't cover?

Wendy Yuengling Baker: Yeah. We're gearing up for a lot of great things this year. We're going to be celebrating our 195th anniversary next year. So, a lot of good things coming for us. We've got our eye on 200, but that's still a few years away. But the fact that we can continue to operate as an American-owned family-operated company is something that we're incredibly proud of, and a lot of good years ahead of us.

Peter J. Danchak: Well, you're an incredible community partner. I know you do so much for the Pottsville area, but all the areas that you do business with. So I just want to compliment you for how family-oriented your business is.

Wendy Yuengling Baker: Thank you very much. Thank you. We appreciate that.

Peter J. Danchak: Wendy, thank you so much. It's been a privilege to talk with you today about the legacy and the future of Yuengling. We're grateful that you allow PNC to be part of the journey for so many years. And I want to thank you and everyone who joined us today. I hope you found this inspirational and informative as I have. As a reminder, there are four more webcasts happening during Women in Business Week. Tomorrow we have my colleague Laura Gamble, will moderate a panel with discussion with women leading the way in four traditionally male industries. On Wednesday, we're in conversation with Alison Levine, who led the first women's expedition to Mount Everest. Thursday, we have a conversation with Julie Uhrman, co-founder and president of Angel City Football Club, the women's soccer franchise in Los Angeles. And on Friday, how to talk with kids about money. Please visit webcast to learn more and register. Wendy, thank you so much for joining us today.

Wendy Yuengling Baker: Thanks, Pete. I appreciate the opportunity and allowing us to tell our story and certainly all the support over the years as we've been growing and expanding.

Peter J. Danchak: Thank you. It's been a pleasure. Thank you, everybody, for joining.