From standout swimmer to craft brew entrepreneur
This is the latest in a series of "Where are they now?" features on members of the Yale Athletics family.
by Brita Belli
When Meg Gill '07 B.A. looks back on what has led her to this moment as cofounder and president of Golden Road Brewing and host of the Viceland reality show "Beerland," swimming, and Yale, are always present, pointing her in the direction she was meant to go.
Gill loved Yale from the first time she walked through the iconic archway of Phelp's Gate as a top public high school student and competitive swimmer visiting campus from the small town of Chester, Virginia. "As soon as I walked through that gate, I knew I wanted to go," Gill says. "I did everything I could to make sure I was a good fit for Yale."
Gill was, by her own admission, an "obsessive" swimmer, consumed with improving her performance. "Swimming was my first thought when I got up and the last when I went to bed," she says. "I took the time to make sure my body and mind were ready to compete." She would go on to place first in the Ivies in the 50-meter freestyle and break over 10 Ivy League records within her career at Yale.
She was equally dedicated to her studies, particularly the classics, and any courses taught by Diana Kleiner, the Dunham Professor in the History of Art and Classics at Yale. Gill knew about Kleiner's work from her high school Latin teacher. After one "Roman Architecture" course, she was hooked. "I took every course she offered, and she became my senior advisor and mentor," Gill says. While Gill also took a few business and law classes at Yale, she says it never occurred to her that she might one day become an entrepreneur.
After graduating, Gill continued to swim competitively and dabbled in triathlons, dreaming of becoming a professional athlete. To pay the bills, she took an internship with Skirt Sports, an apparel company founded by another Yale alumna swimmer, Nicole DeBoom '94 B.A. As part of that role, she connected with a local brewery for event sponsorship, and was soon pursuing work in the burgeoning world of craft brewing in Colorado and San Francisco. "I wanted to get as much real-world experience as I could," Gill says. "At the same time, I was seeing different people's paths from Yale and realizing I didn't have to go to Wall Street or go to law school to be successful. I could pursue my passions."
Taking a leap
Driving home after an open water swim at Lake Tahoe in 2009, Gill had a bout of vertigo and swerved her car off the road, plummeting over the side of a mountain. She had to be air lifted to a hospital and suffered a concussion and memory loss. During the six months of recovery that followed, Gill started to reassess her life's purpose. She thought about craft brewing and how she might make her mark.
"I was in a unique moment in time in the beer business," she says. "If you were in craft brewing at that time, you felt it. I needed to focus and prioritize it."
The idea for Golden Road Brewing was born — a craft brewery with an environmental ethos and its own swim team. Gill also belonged to a swim team in Los Angeles that was frequented by a lot of venture capitalists, and her Yale degree was an important calling card. "My Yale degree helped me to have conversations and talk to the first investors for Golden Road," she says. She was also introduced to Sue Wellington '81 B.A., the former CEO of Gatorade, by her Yale swim coach. At the age of 26, Gill cofounded the company with fellow entrepreneur Tony Yanow, and Golden Road was acquired by Anheuser-Busch Inbev (ABI) in 2015. Gill has stayed on to lead the company to quadruple growth and national expansion since partnering with ABI.
"I hope other talented athletes see the value of a Yale degree in whatever field they are passionate about and chose to pursue," Gill says. "Yale will stay with you for life."