The next step in the evolution of the New Mexico Brewers Guild will come with the appointment of its new executive director, who just happens to be someone familiar to most people involved in the local craft beer community.
Marble Brewery public relations and social media director Leah Black will officially succeed John Gozigian on March 25. The Board of Directors chose Leah based on her connections throughout the industry, her marketing background, and her enthusiasm for, well, just about everything.
“Social media is my passion, but the beer industry (as a whole) is my passion,” Leah said. “It’s really hard, because I have a big chunk of my heart here (at Marble). But, I also am a firm believer in paying attention to what the universe brings to you.”
Initially, Leah did not apply for the job. The Board eventually reached out to her and others who seemed like good candidates.
“We advertised that the position was available, we advertised through our newsletter, on Indeed, and also on Brewbound dot com,” John said. “A lot of the resumés we were getting through employment websites, nobody really had relevant experience. We did get a handful of resumés from the local beer community and we actually had several good candidates. It was a tough decision, actually.
“When we weighed each candidates’ skills and personality, reputation within the community, everything gelled around Leah. We didn’t get much through our traditional sources. What the Board decided to do was reach out to people in the community that they thought would be good candidates.”
As John has explained in the past, the position of executive director is complex, ranging from event planning to marketing to accounting and more. It made finding an exact match nearly impossible.
“The fact is, hardly anybody is, because there are so many different hats you have to wear,” he said. “Not everyone is going to have an accounting background, a marketing background, an event planning background. The key for us was to find someone who would have the aptitude to learn.”
Leah fit the bill for someone who would learn, and also someone who could take the Guild in the direction the Board wants.
“My tenure was about getting us on strong financial footing,” John said. “Now is a perfect time, admittedly, for someone more gregarious and extroverted than I am.”
Anyone who has known Leah during her time at Marble, or even before that at La Cumbre or back in her radio/television days, is fully aware of her ability to connect with people in person or online.
Leah said she knows she has a lot to learn, but with the support of John and the Board members, it should ultimately be a smooth transition into the job.
“I think the biggest thing going into this is I work with one brewery, definitely with different personalities, things like that,” she said. “Now it’s going to be 80-plus breweries, just learning how to best facilitate everybody’s interests. For the most part, all the craft brewers across the nation are on board for the basic things that we need and want for our industry to grow. There’s other little things to come along that I don’t even know what to anticipate that I’m excited (to face).”
As an example of one thing she has already learned, Leah noted one important piece of Guild history.
“It’s a trip to make me think, it was not legal for you to fill a growler and bring it (home) from a craft brewery,” she said. “That was something that the Guild helped get into play. I’m learning so much about it, too, even though I’ve worked in it all these years. So I’m real excited.”
With John having set much of the Guild business/accounting practices into stone, Leah will now be at the forefront of growing the marketing side.
“John even picked at himself for this, and it was funny, because me mentioned, ‘I’m on Facebook and that’s about it,’” she said. “He’s great, his (strength) of it is the business side, and he’s gotten the Guild so dialed in, so I really hope to follow in his footsteps, grow on what he’s built. But, for me, on my side of things, obviously my love and my passion and where I’ve focused on all these years is the social media side. Their Instagram, and John laughed about it, their last post was in 2016. I am very excited to get the Instagram rocking.
“Just the (entire) social media side of it as well, he admitted that was one thing he didn’t have time to focus on. He was focused on building out and getting it financially upright. Now that that’s happened, I think that we’re in a really good place to just grow the Guild in New Mexico, and just become more mainstream. I’m excited about growing the marketing side of it, and then just making it more known and the benefits.”
One thing that Leah pointed out was working with other agencies in New Mexico and neighboring states on the growing beer tourism industry. Beyond that, she does not expect to make any major changes to the Guild-sponsored events calendar, at least not until next year.
“As far as for the rest of this year, I believe we’re going to keep the staples that we’ve always had,” she said. “We’re definitely going to keep having conversations, even though I’m not in this role yet. I’m very ambitious, so I need to not come in too hot, but maybe adding some really fun, unique events. That will probably be more on the 2020 discussion, but we’ll see what we can get done. I’m not stepping into the position until April, so the year is not half over, but we’re definitely going to have the IPA Challenge and those kind of events that you can always expect.”
The toughest part about changing jobs for Leah might just be leaving behind her Marble family, and the position that she created during her five years at 111 Marble Avenue.
“I’m so proud,” she said. “It’s really bittersweet. It’s like my baby, and you kind of have to let it go. That’s a hard thing. Who’s going to do this? There’s all these little nuances. (But) it’s going to be great. Marble is so passionate about everything they do and do it with such love, so it’s going to end up fine. But, for me, on a personal level it’s really hard. All the relationships I’ve made with everyone here, it’s definite tight-knit community, it is like family.”
Now, though, she gets to explore the world beyond just the second biggest brewery in the state.
“There’s so much of New Mexico that I’ve never been to, and another part that I’m real excited about was when John talked about this trip the Board did,” Leah said, referring to recent visits to smaller, rural breweries like Callahan West in Mosquero. “I’m just excited to chronicle all these stories at these small breweries. That’s where Instagram will come in great. Did you know this is a Guild member? That’s exciting to meet all of these people (whose breweries) I didn’t know about.”
In that regard, she will be the ideal ambassador for craft beer in New Mexico, John said.
“I think we’ve all known her for a long time,” he said. “We’ve seen the work that she’s done. She’s obviously smart. There’s nothing in this job that’s rocket science, otherwise I wouldn’t be good at it. Any areas she’s not strong in going into it, she can learn, or there are things that are outsourced. Those are some of the things that can be outsourced, if necessary, so the focus can be on promotion and the Guild, growing the number of events that we do, not just beer festivals, but all kinds of stuff that would be of benefit to our membership.”
All of us in the Crew would like to congratulate Leah on becoming the next executive director. We look forward to continuing to work with her, and everyone else involved with the Guild.