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From Border Books to Brewing: MBA Alum and Change Agent

By Kait Kisel, student writer

For Tony Grant, CEO and partner of Northern United Brewing Company, change isn’t anything new…and there’s nothing wrong with that. For a professional whose career spans real estate for a Fortune 500 company to overseeing a local brewery, change is the norm.

Grant returned to the Eli Broad College of Business to speak to a group of MBA students for the Pung Executive Speaker Series, and he opened by telling the audience that big changes in his academic journey at Michigan State University got him to where he is today.  He earned a bachelor’s of science in electrical engineering but switched gears to pursue his MBA from the Broad College. He admitted, “Switching was definitely a push outside of my comfort zone, but something that benefited me in the long run.” Grant encouraged students not to be afraid also to leave their own comfort zone in search of new passions.

Tony Grant
Tony Grant leapt from a Fortune 500 corporation to a local Michigan brewery and spoke to MBAs about taking risks and embracing changes.

Entering the workforce in 2009, Grant worked for Borders Books & Music, holding four positions in his six years working for the company. He went from senior manager of Borders’ airport segment to vice president of strategic planning for real estate and international operations. Grant says his success at Borders came from seeking opportunities in the chaos – and adapting to change.

In Grant’s years at Borders, the company was in the midst of chaos. The brand was experiencing a breadth of problems, ranging from losing book sales to Amazon and music from Apple. Many employees left Borders because of the instability, but not Grant. “As everyone was running out of the fire, I kept running back in thanks to passion,” he said.

Through his dedication to the company, along with his willingness to learn and adapt to change, Grant gained invaluable experience in many leadership capacities that would later benefit him. When Borders eventually filed for bankruptcy, Grant saw it as a window for new opportunities. While working at Borders, he invested in a small business, Northern United Brewing Company. Fast-forward a few years, and Grant would go on to become his investment’s CEO. Today, Northern United Brewing manufactures beer, spirits, ciders, and wines, as well as owning various retail pubs.

Going from a Fortune 500 company to a small business was a giant leap of faith for Grant. “This line of work is incredibly fulfilling and rewarding as well as a huge learning experience,” he said.

The learning curve has taught Grant a few things about small business operations, and the challenges that come along with them:

  • Lack of resources
    • Answer the front door and phone yourself
    • Take out the trash yourself
    • Initial lack of cash

He went on to share the rewards from this transition:

  • Working alongside the founders to cultivate new ideas
  • Incredibly creative and fast-moving line of work
  • Constantly learning through taking care of all areas of the business (IT, HR, legal, finance)

As the presentation wrapped up, MBA students eagerly asked their questions, inspired by Grant’s ability to experience so much in his years.

“How do you maintain a level head and embrace yourself in this journey, having gone from such drastically different lines of work? Is it scary never knowing what will come next?” asked a student.

“I’ve always been a believer in investing in yourself. As long as you’re always pushing yourself to move forwards and not backwards, you’re going to be OK. Changing your mind and trying new things is more than OK. You’re making yourself a better asset and team player as you go through that journey. It’s a great thing to take on new opportunities as they are thrown your way and remember it is OK to change your mind,” he said.


Eli Broad College of Business

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