Patriarch of Brewers: The Enduring Reputation of Christian Heurich

By Kimberly Bender, Executive Director, Heurich House Museum

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“Corporate culture” is a mainstay of business theory, taught in B-school programs and discussed often by Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and Entrepreneur magazine. The term feels like a modern invention, a buzzword used to describe the “the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company's employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions.”(Investopedia) Google is often cited as having the best company culture, noting its dog-friendly work environment, flexible work schedule, and shared values.

Yet, as long as there have been corporations, there has been corporate culture. And “[f]or better and worse, culture and leadership are inextricably linked. Founders and influential leaders often set new cultures in motion and imprint values and assumptions that persist for decades. Over time an organization’s leaders can also shape culture, through both conscious and unconscious actions…” (HBR)

Patriarch of Brewers: The Enduring Reputation of Christian Heurich is a temporary exhibit at the Heurich House Museum that explores the company culture that served as the foundation of success for DC’s largest historic brewery. From 1873 to 1945, Christian Heurich ran the Chr. Heurich Brewing Co., and by the time he died at the age of 102, he was known in the city as a respectable and formidable businessman. His stature stemmed from strong personal principles that he integrated into all aspects of his life, including the culture of his company.

Heurich’s employees viewed him with affection and respect. He created a workplace culture that both valued and rewarded loyalty and hard work. Always leading by example, Heurich was known to work to the point of exhaustion numerous times in his early career. He formally recognized and celebrated employee service to the brewery and community and frequently hosted employee family social events. Heurich’s employees showed their admiration by returning the favor, hosting events celebrating his accomplishments as a successful brewer and respected employer.

Heurich also received accolades for the quality of his beer, and he personally received numerous awards for his service to the industry from various associations and trade shows. He was proud of the quality and purity of his beer, as he was trained as a brewer in the German tradition of Reinheitsgebot, or German Purity Laws. He continued to use these practices in America and even fought for higher government food safety standards.

Heurich’s reputation extended beyond the brewery, as he was also recognized as a generous private philanthropist. He helped fund civic improvements in his hometowns in Germany, engaged in various local civic associations, and served as an active board member of several charities in Washington, D.C. He gave most generously to institutions that reflected his interests of German heritage, history, music, and children, and was frequently recognized for his service to these institutions.

The exhibition presents the numerous honors and accolades Heurich received from his peers, employees, and the community, which acknowledged his values and cemented them as his personal and professional brand. Heurich’s reputation, a reflection of his character, was key to the success of his business, helping him establish a healthy brand, loyal workforce, and strong customer following that would keep his business operating successfully for over seventy-five years.

Visitors can view the exhibit, which was made possible through a loan from the Historical Society of Washington, DC, through September 2019 at the Heurich House Museum in Dupont Circle.