It was no small thing when Molson Coors Beverage Company was contemplating new leadership at Revolver Brewing.
As one of its marquee craft partners and brewer of the well-regarded Blood & Honey Texas Ale, Revolver had established itself as a leader in the growing Texas craft market prior to its partnership with Molson Coors. And with Revolver aiming to slay even bigger dragons, the company didn’t have to look far for the right leader. Enter James Gleaves III.
Gleaves, a Molson Coors veteran with deep experience in the craft beer segment, was tapped to become president at Revolver in 2020. And while the role was a clear step up the corporate ladder, he contemplated whether it was the right move.
“I went in with eyes open. It’s an iconic brand in north Texas, and I didn’t want to lose the history or discount what the founders did,” Gleaves says. “What I really wanted to do was build the innovation path for Revolver, provide leadership and also bridge the relationship between the distributor network and our sales team.”
It was this combination of thoughtful pragmatism and distributor-centered vision that made Gleaves a natural choice to lead Revolver.
“He likes to debate and he likes to win, but he’s open-minded and curious,” says Pete Marino, president of Molson Coors’ emerging growth division. “The way he treats people and listens and gets to yes has served him and the business well.”
Those skills have served him well during his decades in the beer business, too, a career that’s taken him across the country and back again, starting out with Anheuser-Busch, then joining SAB Miller and finding success in positions across the company that became Molson Coors.
Born and raised in San Francisco’s Visitation Valley neighborhood, where he lived with his father and sister, Gleaves was heavily influenced by his dad and grandfathers.
“The biggest thing I learned from them was leading by example,” Gleaves remembers. “They were really leaders in the fact that you don’t pass on opportunities. My grandfather Thad said you may only get one opportunity, so take advantage of it.”
That’s been a guiding principle for Gleaves throughout his decades-long career.
Across the country and back
After graduating from the University of the Pacific, where he captained the NCAA Division I basketball team on scholarship, Gleaves joined Anheuser-Busch as a sales rep. Working closely with distributors, the job took him from St. Louis to Kansas City to Nebraska.
After seven years, he landed a job with Miller and was off to Southern California, where he called on Hispanic chain stores. His role at Miller took him to the East Coast, then to Molson Coors’ U.S. craft division, Tenth & Blake, where he worked with brands including Blue Moon, Peroni and Leinenkugel’s.
And when Molson Coors acquired two West Coast craft breweries in 2015 and 2016, Gleaves worked to integrate them into to the company’s system, serving as a liaison between the mothership and its satellites. Within four years, he was Texas-bound, with his wife, Desiree.
There, he was charged with kickstarting Revolver, which was at an inflection point: needing to grow, but lacking the tools to do so.
‘Art of the possible’
“He inherited a culture that wasn’t thinking about business from an enterprise standpoint very well and wasn’t dreaming about the art of the possible,” says Marino. “Those are two things James has really instilled in that culture.”
Since Gleaves took the reins, Revolver has stepped beyond its four walls in rural Granbury, opening a hub at the trendy Texas Live! area in Arlington; leaning into new beers that celebrate its home state, including its Texas Haze IPA series, Dem Berries fruit ale and 817 lager; introducing its take on Texas’ favorite beer style, bock; and is growing its presence in west and mid-Texas and Oklahoma. Meanwhile, the brewery aims to build on Blood & Honey’s strong position in Texas.
Gleaves is proud of his work, but he’s even more eager to tout the contribution of colleagues, like brewmaster Megan Mares (“Megan brings the talent”), marketing director Manny Gutierrez (“a sound and strong perspective of Texas and Hispanic consumers”) and operations director P.J. Milly (“an amazing leader and technician”).
“If you put us all together, there’s something special there. We challenge each other and try to make each other better,” Gleaves says.
His contemporaries aren’t surprised at the culture Gleaves has instilled at Revolver.
“His ability to actively listen, he has a real sense of empathy, he’s extremely pragmatic. He takes information and says, ‘What are we trying to solve here and how do we do it?’” says Adrian Benkonvich, president of Hop Valley Brewing, who worked with Gleaves at Tenth & Blake. “We’d always say, ‘What would James do? How would James look at this problem?’”
His ability to think like a distributor and a retailer have proven invaluable, too. “He’s a resident expert,” Benkonvich says.
Putting people first
Perhaps just as important, Gleaves shows up for his team.
“When you think about his strengths and line them up against our values, James is a great embodiment of what we want to be as an organization,” Marino says.
And as one of the few Black executives in craft beer – where just 1% of craft breweries are Black-owned or led, according to the Brewers’ Association – Gleaves recognizes the importance of his leadership.
“It’s a privilege and a unique opportunity,” he says. “If I’m successful, it’s going to open doors for African-Americans and people of color in our organization and outside of it.”
Never far from his mind are the leadership lessons he learned on the basketball court and from his father and grandfathers: Prepare, be humble, lead by example.
“Almost every day, you reach back for those lessons,” he says. “They’re all very humble, driven people, and I like to say I’ve followed in their footsteps.”