Amy Johnson, VP of Manufacturing for John I. Haas, Inc., was recently featured in the Yakima Valley Business Times’ showcase of Women in Business, recognizing the women whose talents and commitment have helped build our community. We sat down with Amy to hear how she got started in hops, where it’s taken her, and what it’s like to be a chemist in the brewing industry.
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START AT JOHN I. HAAS?
AJ: I moved back to Yakima about 15 years ago after college and I was looking for a job in the chemistry field. I have a degree from Western Washington University in Chemistry so I was looking to apply that. I saw an ad in the paper and I remember thinking there’s not a lot of chemistry in hops and it probably couldn’t be that exciting and—well, let’s just say I was very wrong on both parts. My first job at Haas was as a Production Chemist in the Advanced Products lab, and I have just enjoyed it ever since because it’s such a great challenge every day.
SO, WHY DO YOU SAY YOU WERE WRONG ABOUT THE JOB?
AJ: Well, when I toured the facility, I was simply blown away. They had vessels and reactors and pipes everywhere—I mean the plant is basically a big lab and it’s not something people are used to seeing. For someone just out of school who was focused on working in a traditional lab, this was very foreign. The plant and the lab are connected, so you’re working in both. I was nervous about taking this leap. But I’m so glad I did. I ended up learning so much, really getting outside of my comfort zone.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT YOUR POSITION?
AJ: Every day is a challenge. Hop processing, as with all-natural products, can vary by variety, crop year, and even farm, so every day really is a new day. There’s always something to troubleshoot. There’s always something to improve upon. It makes it interesting, for sure.
WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING A WOMAN IN THE BREWING INDUSTRY?
AJ: Well, it was certainly a challenge in the early years. But it was more the challenge of being a young chemist, I think. I remember my first boss asking me to fix an HPLC (High-Performance Liquid Chromatography) and I was like, Wait. I have to fix the tools? I figured I was going to have to fake it until he left the room—and I did…and then I fixed it. Google is an amazing thing, by the way. There was a steep learning curve. I had to adapt, roll up my sleeves, and figure stuff out as I went along.
The lab was the easy part. It was the plant—trying to figure out how to make sure everything ran smoothly and I had the timing correct. It was a lot of figuring out tanks, valves, and pumps and all this equipment I’d never worked with before.
WHERE DID YOU GO FROM THERE?
AJ: Well, I was a production chemist for a couple of years, I became a QC supervisor for a short stint, then I became a production supervisor responsible for supervising the plant. From there I was promoted to plant manager and then later became VP of Manufacturing. Plus, there was lots of onsite training and University of Washington OSHA courses, as well as LEAN Manufacturing—it’s been quite a whirlwind and a lot has happened in 15 years.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT WORKING AT HAAS?
AJ: I think the best part is our culture. I’ve seen a lot of changes over the last decade. We’ve come together as a team—we used to work in silos; we were spread out all over Yakima and the R&D team was in Washington DC. (Now it’s all centralized at the Haas Innovations Campus). We broke down those barriers, and it’s nice to see everyone has the opportunity to come together with their teams. And, because we’re so focused on continuous improvement, everyone has the opportunity to use their creative side, to contribute and improve our processes and systems. HAAS is a family company, so you feel valued. It’s really obvious they care—and it’s especially obvious now, with COVID going on.
But, maybe to answer your earlier question, about being a woman in the brewing industry—much like we’ve come together as a company, there has definitely been a shift in the industry. I really think that everyone at HAAS understands that we need to have a diverse community. We need to have diverse perspectives. It helps us with problem-solving and we need that, and we value that. So, we realize females are certainly in short supply in manufacturing positions in every industry, not just brewing, and I think everyone at the company would absolutely like to see that continue to change. And I’m proud to be a part of a company that values my perspective and input.