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Nicole Barry: ‘You try to set your staff up for success’

Nicole Barry, owner of Peg Beer Co in Winnipeg Manitoba, November 28, 2016.


Nicole Barry, 38, of Winnipeg, co-founded Half Pints Brewery in 2005 at the age of 27, one of the first craft brewers in the city. After leaving the brewery in late 2015, she started working on her next venture, Peg Beer Co., a brew pub in the city's Exchange District that opened last spring.

I moved out at 17 and became a grown-up pretty quickly. I had my first comptroller position at 23. I was very mature as a child, and I didn't have the party phase that a lot of kids have in their twenties. I settled down very quickly out of a need for security and a need for financial stability.

I didn't go into accounting to become an accountant. I went in looking for a strong entrepreneurship program. And, rather than do a traditional business program, I went in trying to figure out how I was going to get a strong financial base.

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When things are hard, are you going to get up and still fight? You're on the ground and you're getting kicked in the face; are you going to get up and keep going? That's what entrepreneurship is. Because no one else is there to pick you up. If you're so low and you can't get up, that's it.

I always like to think of myself as a person, not a woman, in business. And whether it's when I wear my hat as an accountant, or wear my hat as an entrepreneur, or my beer hat at a beer-industry event, to me it's irrelevant (that I'm a woman). I'm my own person and I think a man could be very similar to me.

My parents were self-employed. My dad owned a bike shop and a tool sharpening and fabrication shop when I was young. He was amazing at making custom bikes, and he was amazing at making custom diamond drill bits. But what they lacked was business acumen and how to properly manage the business. My parents ended up going bankrupt and it was unfortunate because I think they entered into a partnership to help them grow and it ended up killing the business. But I took that as an example. I wanted to follow in their footsteps and be an entrepreneur.

I remember the humbleness of (my parents going bankrupt when I was in Grade 7). It was an amazing life lesson in just how silly people are with things and wealth. And that things are fleeting. I know what it's like to move away, to see a car repossessed. I've felt it so I know what that kind of loss feels like.

I want my boys (9 and 12) to see the hardships but I want them to see the successes too. I share a great deal with them. I'm very honest with them. I do say, "We're going to be tight because we're growing this business … We're going to put off some trips … We're not doing any vacations right now." And they understand. When we first opened the restaurant, they would come sit at the bar. And that was OK. That's super valuable to them to see me working. That's what I did at my parents' businesses. They see what hard work looks like.

If you want to do what you're passionate about in life, it doesn't come easy. I want them to feel like they know when they love something they don't have to settle, but in order not to settle they have to really work hard.

You try to set your staff up for success. You want to give them room to be independent; to support and guide them, to be a coach, a mentor and give them room to feel valued and worthy enough to make independent decisions. The way that I explain it to them is, "I'm creating the highway, you're driving the bus."

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I wish I could be the best leader, the best boss, the best volunteer, the best mom, the best board member, all at the same time, but I've come to learn that isn't possible.

I'm a little smarter and more calm, but in the best way. I'm slowing down in the best way.

I feel the wisdom, experience, calmness that comes from "I can do this, I've done it before." I have the strength and power to get through whatever comes my way and life teaches you that.

As told to Robin Summerfield. This interview has been edited and condensed.

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