Kenny McNutt: Xavier MBA Helps Brew Community at MadTree

Kenny McNutt appreciates things that are organically grown—the cows on his father’s farm, home-brewed beer, the camaraderie of good friends.

It all added up to his decision to quit his job as an electrical engineer and open MadTree Brewing—a decision rooted in his philosophy about the intertwining of life, work and community, and reflected in his motto: “Beer builds community, and community builds beer.”

It helps when one of those communities is Xavier.

 It’s the best MBA program in the area. It was about gaining new and different perspectives and being able to see the same thing through someone else’s eyes.

Armed with a computer engineering degree and a master’s in electrical engineering, McNutt, a native of Texas, came to Cincinnati in 2004 to work at Northrup Grumman’s software communications division. He fell in love with Cincinnati’s neighborhoods and Midwest lifestyle.

He also fell in love with beer after organizing a beer-of-the-week club with his friends. After sampling over 2,000 varieties, he began brewing his own in 2009, and a year later, he and his partners began thinking about going into business.

McNutt had already enrolled in Xavier’s MBA program. “It’s the best MBA program in the area,” he says.

The projects he worked on for his classes helped him develop the business plans for his new brewery. But there were other benefits to his degree, which he completed in 2010. The network, he says, was “invaluable,” including several who became investors in his start-up brewery, and he recently joined the Williams College of Business' Board of Executive Advisors.

“But overall it was about gaining new and different perspectives and being able to see the same thing through someone else’s eyes,” he says.

By 2013, he and his partners were ready. They quit their jobs and opened MadTree near his home in the Oakley neighborhood. The business now has 130 varieties and is producing 22,000 barrels a year. An expansion at a larger site nearby opens in January, allowing production capacity to grow to over 60,000 barrels. McNutt plans to have MadTree beers stocked throughout Ohio and Kentucky.

In addition to owning his own business, McNutt likes the neighborhood where it’s located. He lives there and serves on the Oakley Community Council.

“The biggest thing about beer was the networking and camaraderie of coming together to enjoy people you have a communal interest with,” McNutt says.

And true to his appreciation of things that occur naturally, a monthly charity at MadTree had its origins in a casual conversation with some patrons at the bar. They tossed a few crumpled dollar bills onto the grate above the bar, and when McNutt hung a sign up saying the cash on the grate would go to charity, he ended up with $1,600 for Toys for Tots.

Since then, hundreds of charities have benefited, including Boys Hope Girls Hope Cincinnati, November’s recipient of Toss a Buck for Charity.

“It was so organic,” McNutt says. “It was not forced. We’re partnering with the community. As long as we help them to grow, they will help us, too.”

Learn more about the MBA programs at Xavier.