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Heavy Seas Beer names founder of St. Louis brewery as new CEO

Heavy Seas Beer's new CEO co-founded Schlafly Beer of St. Louis.

Dan Kopman, the co-founder of Schlafly Beer in St. Louis, has been named the new chief executive officer of Baltimore's Heavy Seas Beer, effective May 1. Heavy Seas' founder and current CEO, Hugh Sisson, will remain a full-time managing partner.

Kopman, along with Tom Schlafly, founded Schlafly Beer in 1991 in Kopman’s hometown of St. Louis. He plans to relocate to Baltimore later this year, and is looking forward to this “new adventure.”

“It’s an opportunity to learn from others in a different market, who have been successful over a number of years at developing the business and the brand,” the 55-year-old said. “My hope is to help them do what they do and do it better.”

In 2012, Kopman and Tom Schlafly sold their majority stake in their business, and Kopman agreed with the new ownership to stay on as CEO for a five-year term. When that ended in December, Kopman — who still owns 10 percent of Schlafly Beer — said it “made sense for all parties involved” for him to end his time there. 

When Sisson heard Kopman had left Schlafly in January, he reached out to see if he would be interested in joinging the Heavy Seas company. 

The opportunity reminded Sisson of a lesson he learned from the book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t.”

“It’s not necessarily whether you have a job for them, but there’s not that many high-talented people out there,” Sisson said. “So if you come across one, you have to at least initiate a conversation to see if there’s any way you can fit him in your organization.” 

Sisson and Kopman said the latter’s arrival does not signal any major plans to change Heavy Seas’ operations. For the 63-year-old Sisson, the move is a proactive decision to consider his own role moving forward.

“I’m going to be just as busy as I have been [with the company],” Sisson said. “It’s one of those things where I needed to begin the process of putting somebody in place who, if two years from now, I decide I want to cut back, nothing misses a step.”

Stepping down as CEO will allow Sisson to spend more time at the Halethorpe brewery, he said. But more so than freeing up time, the hiring of Kopman was an opportunity to add a sharp mind to the company — a practice Sisson hopes to continue. 

“I’m pretty good at a lot of things, and I’m not the best at any of them,” Sisson said. “My goal is, two years from now, walk into a senior management team meeting and completely, and realistically, think I’m the stupidest guy in the room.”

Founded by Sisson in 1995, Heavy Seas was first known as Clipper City Brewing Company until a rebrand in 2010. The company — whose product is sold in 18 states and D.C., and employs 50 — is best known for its most popular beer, the hoppy Loose Cannon America IPA.

Kopman said he was attracted to Heavy Seas’ commitment to quality and its potential for growth.

“A brand like Heavy Seas can represent, not only in its home market where it’s so much a part of the community, but it has potential beyond the home market," Kopman said. “That’s a huge opportunity.”  

In terms of Heavy Seas’ operations, Kopman said he has not yet identified any needs for change. Instead, he plans to observe, listen and get to know his new employees. 

“Right now, I’m all eyes and all ears,” he said. “I plan to spend a lot of time just getting to know everyone and getting to know Baltimore.”

wesley.case@baltsun.com

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