‘Be versatile and tenacious in how you overcome bumps’

EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist Tom Cronin of Rye River Brewing Company

Having gained more than 25 years' experience working for drinks giants including Heineken and Molson Coors, Tom Cronin moved in 2013 to become a director of Rye River Brewing Company – a craft brewery that now has a range of more than 30 beers under six brands.

Based in Co Kildare, the company has grown to become one of Ireland's largest craft brewers, employing 47 staff on its five-acre site, which it moved to in 2016 to facilitate increased output.

Best known for its McGargles brand, the brewery also sells the Rye River beers under the Crafty Brewing, Grafters and Solas brands.

Cronin, who worked in sales, marketing and brand management in Heineken, has had his fair share of challenges – having to lead the company through a major restructuring programme two years ago.


Since then, the company has returned to profit and is growing strongly, being named “Europe’s most decorated brewer” at the 2018 world beer awards.

What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start-up in business?

The emergence of the changing consumer needs for locally-produced artisan products combined with the resurgence of craft beers across the US and Europe.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Turning the business around from the brink of collapse to profitability within 12 months.

What was your ‘back-to-the-wall’ moment and how did you overcome it?

Realising how close we came to shutting the doors in 2016. I surrounded myself with a talented and experienced management team and dedicated staff, supported by a dedicated board of directors and investors, all of whom bought into the vision to become Ireland’s number one independent craft brewery by 2023.

What were the best and the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?

The best advice was that cash follows profit and a person who makes profit never goes broke. The worst was to open up in new markets without understanding the competition, model or consumer needs in that market.

What moment/deal would you cite as the ‘game changer’ or turning point for the company?

Securing a large export contract with a leading retailer across Europe who appreciated the quality, consistency and unique offering of our beers while also believing in our ability to deliver on time and in full.

Have you started to feel the effects of the economic upturn within your sector/industry?

Yes, people are looking to savour an experience, choosing to consume less while looking for a more premium experience. They are willing to pay more for this and our craft beer offers this.

How has Brexit impacted your business? Are you still feeling the effects?

We currently purchase all our hand-turned malts from the UK as there are no Irish maltings using this traditional method. The possible import tax that would be levied is of grave concern to us as it could have a dramatic impact on our cost base as we’re not willing to compromise on our quality and process.

What is the most common mistake you see entrepreneurs make, and what advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

I would simply say that you need to manage cash-flow efficiently, secure cost-effective funding and develop and adhere to a medium- and long-term strategic plan. Expect bumps along the way and be versatile and tenacious in how you overcome them.

Peter Hamilton

Peter Hamilton

Peter Hamilton is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in business