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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Atkinson alumni harness sustainability for competitive advantage and industry-wide change

Schilling Cider started using aluminum cans before aluminum cans were cool for craft alcohol. “In 2013, people strongly preferred cider and other bottled spirits,” said Colin Schilling, BA’10, MBA’12.

“No cider maker used cans. From a business standpoint, it seemed like an odd decision,” said Schilling, CEO of Schilling Cider. In 2012, he co-founded the company with Mark Kornei, BA’11, MBA’12, CFO of the Seattle-based cider house.

Mark Kornei BA’11, MBA’12, Colin Schilling BA’10, MBA’12 and Ian Townson MBA’12 at their graduation from Atkinson Graduate School of Management

However, following a cool factor was never factored into the plans the duo had when they launched their business. Fresh out of Willamette’s Atkinson Graduate School of Management, Schilling and Kornei were interested in being agents of change for social and environmental good in the beverage industry.

And because of the sustainability-based education they received upon earning their MBAs from Atkinson, the co-founders were well-equipped to achieve their goal.

“In 2012 we started talking about starting a business, in February 2013 we received our cider license and the following April we sold our first can,” Schilling said.

Schilling credits his education from the Atkinson MBA program with directly driving his ability to found, grow, and continue to lead his company. “Learning from a book is fine, but that only takes you so far. Atkinson really took everything to the experiential side,” she said.

Nine years since the company’s founding, Schilling, Kornei and a third Atkinson classmate, Ian Townson, MBA ’12, who is Schilling’s chief operating officer, have made impressive strides. The 75-person company, with tasting rooms in Seattle and Portland and a nationwide distribution reach, is growing at a rate of 60 percent.

Colin Schilling, however, does not rest. In fact, he still focuses on aluminum cans and makes sure they remain a reusable resource. With the trend to label aluminum cans with custom printed sleeves and stickers, Schilling has purchased equipment that allows the company to print its own cans in-house.

“We are trying to educate other beverage producers and consumers about the toxicity and unsustainability of labeling cans with plastic sleeves and stickers. Printed cans are infinitely recyclable and decaled cans are non-recyclable,” Schilling said.

Social and environmental innovation as core principles require diligent and relentless attention to detail to drive any organization forward.

“The Schilling case shows that embracing a sustainability-based ethic and using it as a strategic compass is good for both business and the environment,” said Elliot Maltz, professor emeritus of marketing at Atkinson.

“The strategy implemented correctly can create long-term competitive advantage and motivate others in the industry to adopt more sustainable practices,” Maltz said.

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