Fred Forsley: Living With Dyslexia

There’s a good chance that you know who Fred Forsley is, even if you have never heard his name. He is the founder of Shipyard Brewing Company, the biggest craft beer brewer in Maine and a national leader in the industry. Established almost 25 years ago, Forsley’s Shipyard Brewing Company was an early pioneer in the craft brewing movement. Some of Forsley’s other accomplishments include being a successful real estate broker since the age of 19, and an avid runner and sponsor of road races through Shipyard. He is also dyslexic.

When he was a child, Forsley, now 57, knew he struggled with spelling the days of the week and other reading and spelling tasks, but he did not know why. One day, a teacher pulled him from his class and placed him in a different classroom. That evening, he recalls his mother could tell something was wrong.

“I got home and told my mother about it because she could see I was upset, and at that point, she didn’t say anything as I remember it,” says Forsley. “I just remember the next day being brought out of school and going to this woman. And she put me through all of these little physical tests and then other verbal tests, and I think there might have even been an IQ test at the time, and then the next I remember is being kept back from second grade and being told, ‘Listen, you are going to redo second grade. That happens to a lot of kids.’”

During those early educational years, his mother advocated for him, and he was frequently tutored, including in phonics. While he did well in other subjects, such as math, he still began to have other problems at school.

“Through sixth grade I remember acting out a lot,” says Forsley, “getting into, I don’t want to say trouble, but you know, compensating physically at recess for what was going on with my lack of performance in the classroom.” He was picked on for repeating the second grade and felt he had to prove “that nobody was going to push me around.”

That phase quickly ended as he began to excel as an athlete in the middle grades and then was taught by a priest at his Jesuit high school how to memorize and store information from short-term memory into long-term memory. Reading and writing tasks took extra effort and time, but he soon learned to put energy into the things he was good at, such as visualization, a technique that served him well as he became one of the youngest real estate brokers in Maine.

“I would have people help me write contracts and I would look for assistance on getting a letter written and lean on other people for the things I wasn’t strong at, but I was strong at thinking through, ‘Oh, this person would be good for this house, or this person would be good for this business location’ and I could visualize what would work and I would use that to benefit me,” he says.

Forsley also makes use of technology to support his day-to-day business activities, often sending business associates voice messages en lieu of written communications. He’s a proponent of using tools such as recorded messages, communicating and learning through video, and listening to audiobooks.

Shipyard Brewing Company is Forsley’s best-known venture. Today, it has a nationwide reputation and employs close to 900 people. Its beginnings were far more humble. In 1992, after a property became available and another brewing company passed on the location, Forsley, inspired by a visit to a craft brewery in Florida the year before, decided to try what was an entirely new venture for him. At that time, craft breweries were not popping up in nearly every city, as they are today, and investors and banks did not see them as a good investment risk. So, he financed the operation with personal loans and put over $600,000 on credit cards, which were relatively easy to obtain at the time. The result of this was Federal Jack’s Restaurant and Brew Pub in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Forsley brought on master brewer Alan Pugsley and began using his own car to distribute beer to local establishments. As the craft brewing company’s popularity increased, it began formal regional and national distribution. In 1994, Forsley expanded his brewing efforts with the launch of Shipyard Brewing Company in Portland, Maine. He has since expanded his business to include other brew pubs and breweries in Maine and Florida, Sea Dog Brewing Company, and Capt’n Eli’s Soda.

“It’s challenging to manage on a lot of fronts, but overall it’s been a lot of fun,” says Forsley.

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