Earle Burrows

Founder of Wingman

Earle Burrows is the founder and former CEO of Wingman – the beer that always has your back – which is based out of Queensland, Australia. Before starting Wingman, Earle spent 20 years in the aviation industry and also held a commercial pilot’s license.

Before long, Earle Burrows was working on plans to establish Wingman Beer in Queensland. Soon, Wingman will be found in locations throughout Australia.

Earle’s business strategy is more than business. That’s because he firmly believes customers are more than potential sources of profit. Mr. Burrows believes that quality products, when paired with quality people, are the recipe for success in any endeavor. Wingman not only produces clean, crisp lagers. It also focuses on building relationships with the surrounding communities, in both Queensland and throughout Australia.

Outside of work, Earle can be found with family and friends, plying the long-lost art of face-to-face communication to great effect. Earle claims to be the number one barbecuer in Australia (self-appointed). He enjoys boating, spending time with his kids, and enjoying a nice, cold beer – obviously a Wingman – with friends and loved ones.

Where did the idea for Wingman come from?

We have a color-changing logo on the beer. The beer, when it’s at perfect temperature, the Wingman name goes from silver to blue. That was born because I accidentally took a warm six-pack of beer onboard a boat for a funder, and ultimately was thrown off the boat for bringing the warm six-pack of beer by accident.

So what happened was I went to the bottle shop. I rang the gentleman who was waiting on his boat. He said, “Come and meet me in my boat.” I said, “Should I pick up a couple of cold beverages?” He said, “Pick up a six-pack of this particular beer.” I went to the bottle shop, opened up the fridge. I brought the six-pack out and paid for it. I went into the boat, got on board. We cheers to each other. And then he took his first mouthful of beer and it was warm. He spat it out. He says, “The beer’s hot.” I said, “It couldn’t be. I just bought it from the bottle shop like three minutes ago.” I took a taste, it was warm. And he said to me, “Who brings warm beer to a deal?” And I did say to him again that I just purchased it. I said that I’d go and replace the beer. With a cold word, he says, “No, meet me in my office next week.” I got thrown off his boat.

So I knew from that day that there must be some indicator or some sort of acknowledgment that the beer’s cold, not relying on the fact that it’s in a nice cold fridge, in case the guy just put them in. So Wingman was born on the back of a color-changing logo that indicates that the beer is at the optimum temperature, which is four and a half degrees in a bottle.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My typical day starts off, here in Queensland, with what I’m trying to achieve during the day. Due to our fast expansion, it’s generally the opposite of what I expected.

It’s such a fast-growing, dynamic brand that you start off with all intention of following a structured day, but you could end up driving a forklift because an extra pallet of beer needs to be delivered. So expect the unexpected.

How do you bring ideas to life?

For me, it’s about giving my employees the license to think of their dreams and what that looks like. But we are different in the fact that most companies, what they do is they employ a think tank or they normally involve companies that do market research. We only care about what Mr. or Mrs. Public says.

I’ll go, for instance, get some demographics and different areas of different parts of life. And it’s just a simple question, “What do you think of that?” and then listening to what people have to say. I don’t ask people what they like about beer. The key question I always ask is, “What don’t you like about beer?” And we go from there.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Change. What people did in the ‘70s and ‘80s is so different to what the newest generations do now. For example: Why did I go for the Tigers? Well, because mum and dad did. Why do I vote for this or that political group? Because mum and dad did. Why do people drink a certain kind of beer? Because mum and dad did. This new generation is much more independent now.

And for us, we’ve been able to develop a brand that can speak every language, whereas a lot of other brands are set in stone on what their message is. That excites me a lot.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Quitting is not an option. I actually do believe in it; I don’t just say it. It is not an option. “Can’t” isn’t a word. The word “scared” doesn’t exist. So that, for me, it’s the quality of not stopping until it’s done, and I don’t listen to anyone’s opinion on what can’t be if they use the word or term “quit.”

What advice would you give your younger self?

If I could talk to my younger self I would say, “Be that old bull, not the young bull.”

There’s a story we tell in Australia, it’s called, “Old Bull, Young Bull.” A young bull comes running through the paddock gate and goes over to the old bull, “Look at all these cows. Let’s run down there and get them.” And the old bull goes, “Just calm down, son. Let’s walk down there instead.” You don’t always have to rush the business. If I could just talk to Earle at 23 years old, I would say, “Look, it’s just patience. Be the old bull, not the young bull.”

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

That Wingman Beer is going to be great in the marketplace. Let’s elaborate here.

I made a statement I was going to bring the beer brand into the market. We did. Then I made a statement saying not only the beer brand comes to the market, I think it will gather a little bit of momentum. We did. Then I said that we would, at some stage, build our own brewery to support the demand and the speed. And now that’s in the pipeline.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Rest. You’ve got to be at your best, full stop. There are too many people depending on you making good decisions—your secretary, to the janitor, as you call it, to middle management, senior management. They are so reliant on you making great decisions because they have home loans and mortgages and family and pets. It’s such a big responsibility that if you think staying out late will help you make great decisions, you’re going to be sorely mistaken very fast. My whole journey, if I could talk to the young Earl, it was making sure that 8:00 at night is 8:00 at night. And the mobile phone, if you can, at 6:00 PM, see you later.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

You got to be in the frontline. You can’t be sitting in your office on floor 46. You need to be on the frontline with the foot soldiers. Get out on those tastings, get out there and be in that frontline talking to one of the retailers, listening to what the consumers are saying. Be with your employees on most days. I’ll choose a day, I’ll go out and do a tasting or I’ll do a presentation with them or I will support them when they’re doing a rollout. You’ve got to be on the frontline of that fight every day because that’s where your answers are.

There’s a saying in aviation, how do you know when to retire? And the answer is easy. The day you stop reading and learning. I think that statement for business leaders should be: how do you know when to retire as an executive? It’s the day you stop getting on that frontline with your people.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Underestimating people and their agendas. I came in with a country attitude – I’m a country boy by heart. I had that mentality. But it’s a bear pit out there.

The one mistake I’ve made is not being relentless and ruthless. There’s no way you could prepare anybody for what you’re about to go into because they wouldn’t believe you. And what I’ve learned is it’s a lot easier for someone to steal an idea than to think of it. It’s faster and easier. So you have got to be careful out there.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’d say someone needs to figure out how to make robots that can walk your dog and take the bin out.

But really, my advice is to find something you’re good at and make it a business. If you aren’t especially good at anything – well, first off, you aren’t thinking hard enough – but if you don’t think you’re good at anything or you don’t think you can monetize it, do something people will always need: Get a couple of your mates together and start a moving company, start an ecommerce business, create an app for on-demand dog walking.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

$50 AUD on pictures of the kids with Santa and $50 AUD on a box of beer. It just felt like the right thing to do. I have $100 on me. The Santa pictures were $50; there was also beer on sale.

I always like to drink other beers. I’m not all about Wingman. I like all the different flavors, whether here in Queensland or around the world. There was a beer for $49.99. For the Santa pictures, that was $50, and I saw the beer on sale at $49.99. I said, “What a great investment today.” It’s the simple things, it really is.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

For productivity? Easy. The iPhone. I think the iPhone is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Art of War. If I could tell a young Earle anything, it would be to read The Art of War.

What is your favorite quote?

“Believe nothing you hear and half of what you see.” That’s my favorite.

Key Learnings:

  • Don’t always rush to success; sometimes the best thing you can do is take your time getting to what you need
  • Find something you’re good at and find a way to make it into a business
  • Be relentless in everything you do