Prenuptial Appeasements

Sleeman Breweries Ltd. chairman John Sleeman describes a key decision that set up his business for success

Written by As told to Jim McElgunn

John Sleeman

Chairman, Sleeman Breweries Ltd.

When you sell a company, it can be a disaster. And when we sold ours, we knew the business could have been swallowed up. By 2006, both Molson and Labatt were talking to us. I worried that if they bought us, they might want to shut down some of our facilities. We also were talking to other companies, including Sapporo Breweries from Japan. Sapporo didn’t have any operations in Canada and didn’t want to shut down any of ours.

The day you tell your employees you’re selling the company, what goes through their minds is: “Will I have a job tomorrow? In 12 months?” You need to be able to say, “I can tell you they have agreed to do this, this and this.”

Many problems after a sale closes arise because there wasn’t enough discussion or clarity. You need to put down on paper very clearly everyone’s expectations for the next five years. You should make a list of things that are important to you and not be afraid to come out and ask, “What are your plans for my plant in Western Canada?” Make the acquirer commit to that. If they tell you something but won’t sign a document supporting that, that’s a good sign they’re not being honest with you.

Sapporo kept its commitments, including investing in our breweries and people. And we’ve just had our best year ever, with our sales volumes growing much faster than they did before the sale. Some days, we’re struggling to make enough beer to meet demand, which is a nice problem to have.

Return to The Turning Point—past and present PROFIT 500 leaders reveal how a single tactic or decision can make all the difference

Photograph by Jennifer Roberts; Kerry Shaw

Originally appeared on