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creativity column

Distilling the lessons of leadership.


Chad Butters served our country proudly flying military aircraft in the United States Army.  He flew Blackhawk helicopters, among other aircraft, for a career spanning 25 years. 

It probably never crossed his mind that one day he would own and operate a distillery.  Yet, that ’s exactly what ended up happening.  “After I retired from active duty, I told my wife that we should put down some roots in a nice place and grow a business.  I told her that whatever we decide, it should involve agriculture, that it should be family owned and operated, that it should have some basis in science and ultimately that it should be fun to do.” Butters said.

Today, Chad is one of the co-owners of Eight Oaks Distillery, a farm to bottle craft distiller nestled in the hills of New Tripoli.  “Once all those boxes got checked, we landed on the idea of starting a distillery, and to this day, I’m still amazed that my wife Jodi agreed to let me start one.” Butters joked.

While you might think that flying Blackhawk helicopters in the military might not have anything to do with distilling whiskey, well, you’d be mistaken. Both require strong leadership and clearly defined missions.  “Leadership is about conveying a stable mission along with the steps on how you’re going to accomplish it.”  Eight Oaks primary mission is to distill the best Whiskey, Gin, Vodka, Rum and Bourbon they possibly can. While Chad is thrilled with how well the core business is doing, he believes in dreaming big.

Chad and his team are playing the long game.  While their primary goal is to grow the business, they also have a plan to do a B-Corp certification, which is a private certification issued to for-profit companies by B Lab, a global nonprofit organization that certifies companies based on how they create value for non-shareholding stakeholders, such as their employees, the local community, and the environment. “It’s a triple-bottom-line philosophy, involving financial, social, and internal initiatives,” Butters said.  

Chad knows that great leadership is about serving others.  He experienced it in the military, and now he distills those lessons to the employees at Eight Oaks.  “Our employees are so much more than a resource of the business. When it comes right down to it, I believe it’s about authentically caring about the people you work with, and knowing what’s important to them and their futures.” Butters said.

It’s refreshing for me to hear a business owner be so candid regarding his leadership approach.  His business philosophy is one that’s hard not to respect because he’s proud of what his company represents and the people that have signed on to participate in the journey.  His ultimate goal is to one day look back, many years from now, and know that people admire Eight Oaks not only for the quality of their product but also their reputation regarding how they nurtured and supported their employees and organizations in the surrounding communities.  “True leaders are always learning. Leaders have to be tuned-in to what’s going on and be open to using creative approaches with people based on what motivates that individual. Because I believe leadership is about cultivating meaningful relationships with your employees and customers and never to assume, a ‘one size fits all’ approach.” Butters said.

That’s a business and leadership philosophy worth of a toast. Make mine a double.


William ChildsComment