The World is His Textbook

Garrett W. Reich '73 enjoys a life of learning.

When Garrett Reich was a high school student, he attended a college fair at Marquette University. He had just finished applying to Boston College when someone pulled him aside and asked, “How would you like to go to an ‘east coast’ college in the Midwest?” A native of eastern Wisconsin, Reich had never heard of the University of St. Thomas. He visited the campus and fell in love. “It allowed me to not just get an education, but something more,” he said. “The small classes gave me a leg up, especially as I got to graduate school.” He has continued to pursue not only education but “something more” throughout his career.

Reich went from college to law school and then to Arthur Andersen, where he worked for a short while before going to work for Miller Brewing Co. as a tax attorney. He has remained at Miller in a variety of capacities for more than 28 years and currently serves as their director of compliance and assistant general counsel.

His first boss at Miller Brewing, James Collins Jr., was one of his mentors. Miller had a different corporate culture from Arthur Andersen, and Reich found he was doing an excellent job technically, but still was having trouble on the job. “I thought my job was to give answers. I was ticking people off, and I didn’t know why.” In one meeting with Collins and an executive, the executive was sharing ideas, and Reich, who saw where the executive was going with each idea, would cut in to say, “No, that won’t work.” Legally, he was correct. But the executive finally turned to Reich and said, “At least have the common courtesy of letting me finish before you blow my ideas up.”

Later, as he talked to Collins, Reich expressed his confusion over what happened. “That’s what you hired me to do,” he told Collins. “He said, ‘There’s a better way to do this.’ He told me to listen first, to make sure I really understood what the person was saying. Then I could tell him what the legal code says and ask the person how their idea would fit with the code. The person will conclude the idea won’t work without being offended.” Reflecting on the lessons he learned from Collins and from other mentors at Miller, Reich concluded, “You don’t get that in a book.”

In 2002, South African Breweries purchased Miller Brewing, forming SABMiller, plc. SABMiller’s decentralized approach to its subsidiaries provided Reich with another opportunity for learning. Because the company’s hubs around the world frequently communicate with each other, Reich was exposed to more global issues than he had encountered in the past. Although his job does not involve international law, he has enough interaction with the other hubs to grow in his understanding of international business law. “There are things which we almost take for granted in the United States, but there may be no law for that in China,” said Reich. What would automatically be illegal here might need to be spelled out in a contract for an overseas plant.

As well as relishing his formal education and on-the-job learning, Reich pursues learning during his personal time. He enjoys listening to courses on tape, learning from some of the best professors in the country. Describing himself as a man with more interests than time, he wishes he could pursue his interests through a series of sabbaticals. “I would love to have a year’s sabbatical at the Culinary Institute of America and then, after working for 10 more years, take six months to dig dinosaur bones.” But when he speaks of parenting his daughters, now mostly grown, it is clear that the learning he treasures the most has been learning to be a kid again. “Being a parent allowed me to watch cartoons, play in the snow and get muddy. Children are your greatest expense, but the paybacks are unfathomable.”

Miller Brewing CompanyFounded in 1855, Miller Brewing Co. is the second largest brewery in the United States. "It's a great deal of fun to work for a beer company," said Reich. "We have our own internal pub, which won an architectural award. It's open from 4:30-6:30 p.m. for employees to have a beer and shoot the breeze at the end of a long day."

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