“I never really labeled myself as an entrepreneur, but I was also very comfortable with having no real directions and just doing stuff and getting it done right. I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed that life until I worked in a very structured, corporate environment.”
Now as a successful managing partner of One Iron Holding Company and CEO of Fat Bottom Brewery, Josh Buckley did not always know his passion lied in entrepreneurship. Coming from a family of physicians, Josh had his sights set on becoming a thoracic surgeon. Knee-deep into his pre-med degree at Johns Hopkins University, Josh discovered he “freaking hated” medicine. Josh grew up surrounded by role models in business despite being in a family of physicians. His best friends’ dads were in finance, his grandfather was in banking, and his mom was an entrepreneur.
“The switch to business comes from just being around business,” Josh said.
He took the advice of one of his role models and pursued a degree in mechanical engineering to learn how to solve problems. The dot-com bubble burst around his graduation flooded the news with talk of Wall Street and Josh became enamored. Right out of school, he interned at Lehman Brothers and later became a sales and trading analyst.
Josh came to realize quickly he was an engineer disguised in a fancy business suit. While his experience in finance allowed him to ‘walk the walk’ he wanted to also ‘talk the talk.’ With the mortgage meltdown of ‘07 giving him a little incentive to go back to school, he decided to enroll in Owen to earn his MBA where he met his now business partner, Andy Heiman.
“We always knew we wanted to do something together but didn’t really know what that looked like,” Josh said. “He went off to the world of Bank of America and I went off to consulting at Wipro.”
Josh joined the strategy team at Wipro consulting for two years before he decided to make the change to human capital and change management to learn more essential skills to run a business one day.
“I’ve always tried to see my career path as a way to keep acquiring skills I thought would be relevant to run something,” Josh said. “I knew I needed a lot more skills to be able to do that, so I moved to human capital change management to learn how to manage workforces, teams, how people work, and how they interact.”
After five years on that team, Josh decided it was time for a change. A successful interview landed him a job offer at Deloitte which led him to a crossroads of going full-on corporate partner or following his passion for entrepreneurship. He decided to try his luck in healthcare again at Lumeris, a healthcare start-up but, as fate would have it, healthcare just was not Josh’s calling.
“Healthcare just wasn’t my path. I didn’t like healthcare and I don’t think healthcare liked me. It was fine, there was a mutual breakup.”
Some of Josh’s friends from Owen had gotten into small-scale private equity; owning and operating small niche companies. Josh believed he could also be successful given his consulting background, so he called up his old buddy, Andy and they got to work on a business plan.
Pulling from his background in human capital and organization development consulting, Josh sought to ensure human capital was the platform for their private equity company. That philosophy gave birth to what is One Iron Holdings.
“If you have great people, you can conquer anything with that team”
Once Josh and Andy solidified their model, they sought out a small-scale business to test the waters. Apple Spice, a catering franchise, was just starting out and it gave the two the right-sized platform to see if they had what it took. While Andy remained at Bank of America working nights and weekends when he could, Josh went all in.
“I was the classic entrepreneur. I worked in what would become one of my son’s bedroom in mesh shorts and a t-shirt. I had all the crazy hallmarks of it,” Josh said.
As the duo worked tirelessly to get Apple Spice up and running, they started to find that their human capital platform had a lot of sustenance. The Nashville franchise began outpacing all the other locations due to the success of their management skills. Josh noted that in 2022, they had 80% employee retention for the year, a virtually unheard-of statistic in the hospitality industry.
Once Apple spice had gotten to a great place Andy and Josh began putting bids on businesses to look for the next thing to go do. They soon acquired a large share of the Nations Brewing Company which houses local beverage brands including TenneSweet Iced Tea, Fat Bottom Brewery, Music City Brewing, and Bravazzi. After the acquisition, Andy joined the team full-time as the business was now large enough to accommodate both of them.
With the over-saturation of the Nashville craft beer industry, Josh and Andy believe there will be plenty of industry shake-out coming their way soon. The two are looking towards a future of brand acquisitions for the Nations Brewing Company along with a wealth of brand innovations including new products and a Fat Bottom location on Broadway.
As for One Iron as a whole, Josh and Andy are eager to continue to grow the Nations Brewing Company in order to earn enough capital to purchase more businesses for the One Iron Portfolio. When asked what the team’s next acquisition will be Josh said,
“The industry isn’t important; we look for products that solve problems for people and have growing industries. We want businesses that are scalable.”
Two is Better than One
After enduring a consulting project by himself at Wipro, Josh decided from then on, that working on a team produces the best outcomes.
“I don’t know how you run a business by yourself,” Josh said. “I don’t know how somebody has enough diversity of thought in their own brain to get to the right answers.”
Josh and Andy have managed to find the ideal balance of similarities and differences, resulting in an abundance of successful outcomes thus far. The classmates-turned-business-partners duo are similar enough to understand the other’s perspective, but their diverse backgrounds allow the two to approach situations from entirely different angles.
Josh said Andy is particularly strong at building structures and processes from meeting agendas to business operations whereas Josh is willing to absorb much more risk than Andy. While Josh pushes Andy out of his comfort zone Andy is able to reel Josh in on lofty risk, creating a perfect balance between the two partners.
Reflecting on the Journey
The duo also counterbalances each other when it comes to their successes. While Josh mentioned his successes are “usually the next one,” Andy is particularly apt to ‘stop and smell the roses.’ After a bit of reflection, Josh did mention his biggest success is “still being around.”
“I still don’t feel that far away from being in my shorts and in what would be my son’s bedroom. It doesn’t seem real on some level, Josh said. “I think what keeps Andy and me going is the fact that we had this crazy idea a while back and it seems to still be going and working.”
Josh and Andy truly pride themselves on the model of trust they have built and the platform they have to help people succeed.
“It’s been really cool to watch people who didn’t realize they were talented start to realize it,” Josh said. “It’s been happening at all levels from the entry-level people to the senior manager level. I’ve watched this metamorphosis of people starting to enjoy their jobs and then when they enjoy their jobs, they tend to get better at their jobs and the company does well.”
The culture and trust they built have also supported them in their missteps as entrepreneurs. While failure is inevitable in this line of business, their team has helped them to get back up again and learn from their mistakes.
Remain on Keel
“the easiest thing to do as an entrepreneur is to completely overreact on a day-to-day basis. Everything is the most exciting thing that you’ve ever done or you’re ready to jump ship and dump everything. Believe in your strategy and focus on long-term success.
Know the difference between Arrogance and Confidence
“You have to make sure you’re making a decision not out of emotion or out of arrogance, but confidence in facts you have to support your decision. Be confident but don’t ever get arrogant, and I think that’s dangerous with entrepreneurs because it’s super simple to blur those lines or just straight towards the arrogant side. If you become arrogant you miss good ideas and ways to improve your products or ideas. Which is why human capital is so important to us. Everybody brings different experiences and knowledge. I’m never particularly understood why people don’t want others to challenge their ideas. Ideological conflict or discussions around things always gets to a better answer. Have people on your team that add a different perspective or diversity of thought. They’re going to say something or look at a problem differently than you.”