There's an old business rule of thumb that says as soon as the CEO moves into a Taj Mahal-like headquarters, business heads for the basement.
Now, it's true that CEO Jacquie Berglund has moved her Finnegans Inc. beer company to a mansion. That would be 500 square feet of leased space in a foreclosed, turn-of-the-century mansion in Minneapolis' Elliot Park neighborhood. Berglund was tired of the cramped office in her sister's Minneapolis basement where she has labored since 2000 to build a brand that also has become a poster child for social entrepreneurship.
And a few hundred bucks a month rent won't keep Finnegans, a for-profit business, from another year of growth that should yield about $750,000 in sales and $45,000 in profit donated to an allied company, the Finnegans Community Fund, which supports charities such as Bolder Options, The Link, Bridge for Youth and others that house and otherwise assist homeless and troubled kids.
"We really work hard at being strategic," said Berglund, a former marketing manager for Kieran Folliard's collection of Irish bars. "We support a lot of mission-aligned fundraisers. We donate beer and promote them on our website, Finnegans.org."
Finnegans magnifies its charitable grants many times over. Berglund uses a force of several dozen volunteers to dispense donated beer and promote and otherwise help raise hundreds of thousands of dollars annually through events that benefit the same charities.
"I'm chairman of two publicly held companies and I've been an officer of two Fortune 500 companies and I've never seen that kind of energy and commitment before," said Jim Hansen, a University of St. Thomas adjunct business professor. "I wish I could bottle her energy."
Hansen, whose class last year analyzed Finnegans, has joined Berglund's board.
"It's overwhelming that somebody, with all the different beers out there, could create another beer brand that would generate any positive income," Hansen said. "She's onto something. And there's something occurring in the economy that allows some of these social-sector businesses with a good plan and purpose to flourish. The supporters of Finnegans really enjoy the experience. It's a quality product and a connection with higher purpose."
The model is similar to the late Paul Newman's "Newman's Own" line of dressings and sauces. The challenge is for Berglund to keep growing, possibly through expansion of Finnegans to other products. For now, it's just nice to make a living at what she loves.
Berglund is a Twin Cities native who graduated from Augsburg College in 1986. After scraping by for the last decade, she recently gave herself a raise to be commensurate with the $50,000 she made working for Folliard in 1999.
"I still live with my sister," Berglund added. "I've been scrimping and saving for years and just started construction on the log cabin on a lake that I've long dreamed about."
Berglund may be on the get-rich-slow program but her story already has been chronicled by therichestpeopleinamerica. com, an outfit dedicated to doing good.
"True richness comes from the love of giving back and happens whether you make $10,000 or $10 million a year," according to the site's founder, Tim Richardson.
CEO and sole employee
Berglund, Finnegans' sole employee, makes use of three college interns and a coterie of volunteers to magnify Finnegans' impact. The interns get valuable experience in the area of events, marketing, sales and Internet applications and the volunteers get the psychic income of using their skills to advance youth-related causes.
Melanie Rieschl, an art director at ad agency Periscope, began volunteering with Finnegans after she heard Berglund speak to a service club. Rieschl, then a production assistant at another agency, answered the call. She tapped her creativity at Finnegans in ways that also helped her advance her career.
"At the end of the day, I still am involved because ad and design are powerful ... and to help these nonprofits benefit kids," she said.
Earlier this year, Berglund moved Finnegans into a small space in the Hinkle-Murphy Mansion on Park Avenue. It was owned by a developer who defaulted. The property, like several on the block acquired by the developer, was foreclosed by Minnwest Bank.
Berglund, ever the entrepreneur, is talking to several investors about making an offer on the mansion. Several business-oriented nonprofits lease space there and share a spacious conference room for meetings.
"We want to do something really cool in Elliot Park," she said. "This could be a center for social entrepreneurs."
Never bet against a boss who welcomes visitors with a choice of beer or coffee.
Finnegans is brewed under contract with St. Paul-based Summit Brewing, another company started a generation ago by an entrepreneur with a dream. And Finnegans even promotes festivals of other small brewers on its website.
Beer and money: meant to be shared.
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