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Jun 14, 2023

John Sleeman’s latest award is a shared success

Looking back on a career that has spanned five decades, resulted in several profitable businesses, and netted him significant prestigious accolades – including the Order of Canada - John Sleeman believes his latest award is really a reflection of the people he has worked with. As the 2023 recipient of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce’s Lifetime Achievement Award, John says he wouldn’t be where he is now without the support of talented colleagues along the way.

John started Sleeman Breweries in 1988, reviving old family recipes that had been all but forgotten for half a century. His goal was to create a new, national brewery. But how did a man who had never worked in a brewery start one himself? To get the business off the ground, John needed expertise and he knew he would have to hire the right people to help him get started.

“From a young age, I knew I wanted to work for myself,” says John. “But when I was starting out, even with all my bravado, it didn’t take me long to realize that there was a lot I didn’t know.”

So, John set out to hire passionate, committed people who would share his vision – what John calls his “audacity” – for creating a brewery that could rival the monoliths in the industry. And he found them.

“I tried to allow people who knew what they were doing to influence the decision-making process as much as possible,” John explains. “I tried not to micromanage people who understood their jobs better than I did.”

John says that his first financial advisor told him that John wouldn’t be the richest or the smartest person, but that he could find success if he surrounded himself with smart people and hard workers. It’s a lesson John took to heart and used when hiring employees across every department of the company.

John believes he’s relatively good at judging people’s characters and at finding people who understand what he wants to accomplish.

“I’ve tried to manage from the middle,” John says. “Let’s take good ideas from everyone, find a common theme, and provide the leadership to get it done.”

Sleeman Breweries has been a fixture in the Guelph community for 35 years. Today, its operations have expanded across Canada with facilities in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec.

At each location, there is a commitment to giving back to the local community.

John’s vision has always been to create companies that look after their people, take care of their communities, and make a product people like. To achieve that vision, Sleeman Breweries has developed strong partnerships with organizations like the United Way, as well as local hospitals and universities. Sleeman Breweries is a frequent sponsor of community events that bring people together to help those in need.

When asked how he feels receiving the Guelph Chamber of Commerce’s Lifetime Achievement Award, John replies simply: “stunned.”

“Throughout my career, I’ve thought – how do I build something I’m proud to be associated with. Hopefully, our staff and our customers are equally proud of what we’ve done.”

Cheers to you, John, for your well-deserved award!

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