"Сойдёт" (not!)

Posted by jlubans on June 16, 2015

Caption: Tasting room with our tour guide.
Valmiermuiža has been my favorite Latvian beer for several years. So, when my cousin Ivars suggested we drive to Valmiera (on the road to Valga)
and tour the brewery, I leapt at the chance.
Afterwards, as we visited in the tasting room, I asked about how Valmiermuiža achieves its consistent quality.
Our guide, Ms. Dace Ciesalniece - a member of the “viesmīlības komanda” (hospitality team) - responded that “cойдёт” (pronounced, "soydot”) is a word (and behavior) you never use when working at Valmiermuiža.
It’s a Russian word and was used in most Soviet enterprises. It continues to be used in Russia to this day as “Так Cойдёт!” In American English, it’s the equivalent of, “OK, that’s close enough for government work” and implies that shoddy is not all that bad. In other words, “It is more or less OK” so let’s go with it. It's passable, middling, not bad, or adequate,! Not exactly what you want to hear in the hospital or the library or from your lawyer or plumber. And, as our guide’s comment confirmed, the brewery’s founder, Mr. Aigars Rungis, (interestingly, his title is “Host”, not boss) did not want to hear or see the word and its concomitant attitude in his business.
Indicators of quality:
The beer is delicious and the one I prefer has a delightful amber color. And, there’s an overall symmetry and tastefulness of design in the interiors of the restaurants and stores, including the glass ware. And, I was impressed with our guide’s thorough knowledge about beer making – certainly far greater than mine - and, importantly, her big picture view of the business (after only a year on the job). And, quintessentially, there’s Valmiermuiža’s voluntary adoption and adherence to “German purity laws” when it comes to what goes into the beer: water, barley, yeast and hops, no more, no less. In other words, no monosodium glutamate, no propylene glycol, no high fructose corn syrup and no caramel coloring!
Naturally, I was interested in how this quality culture came about since culture has much to do with how an organization achieves consistency and profitability.

Caption: Attention to detail; Latvian flowers in the tasting room.
While the history of the brewery dates back to 1764, the latest incarnation is only 6 years old, starting in 2009, with Latvia’s wrecked economy mired in the worldwide recession. Can you imagine what financial partners thought about Rungis’ pitch for launching a craft beer in an already beer-inundated Latvia? Imagine what they thought when he told them that this beer would likely be Latvia’s most expensive. (At the Prisma grocery chain, a half liter bottle today goes for over 1.40€, while a best selling brand like Aldaris sells at .53€. The cost is explained in part by the use of a “slow and patient brewing process”, that a significant portion is unfiltered and, that all of it is unpasteurized, obviously with a shortened shelf life.)
And, what did investors think when they heard that the market share goal was 1%, definitely not dominance? Well, five years later that goal was achieved along with the industry’s prize for being the best medium or small brewery. **
It’s pretty obvious that I like the beer. And now I can say I savor it not only for its excellent taste, but also that Valmiermuiža is a splendid example of leadership and of a leader’s role in stating a clear vision and of bringing clarity to and understanding of expectations. Mr. Rungis apparently has - better than most - made clear to his/her followers what is expected and why. They know that when a choice is to be made, they have the freedom (and expectation) to opt for “quality above the quantity.”
So, I end with a Latvian toast for Valmiermuiža, “Lai ražīgi!” Alas, the robots translate this in very Soviet industrial terms, “for effectiveness” and “for efficiency” – no doubt to counter the implied slackery in “Cойдёт!” - but you get my meaning.

Caption: Uniquely shaped Valmiermuiza glasses for enhancing flavor.

** How many people work at Valmiermuiža? Ms. Ciesalniece writes: “Altogether we are about 100 people working in Valmiermuiža (Rīga and Valmiermuiža together). About 40 people tend for the hospitality and tourism, about 30 people are responsible for the brewing, quality control and sales, the rest is administration and marketing.”

© John Lubans 2015
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