Ayla Kapahi ’23 MBA knows first-hand what it means to start from the bottom and work your way to the top.
A graduate of UC Davis in California, Kapahi moved to Tucson right after she completed her degree in human development and psychology.
Kapahi had a research position at the Family Studies and Human Development Department at the University of Arizona when she began to feel a “restlessness” and decided to make a big career change. “That was when I decided that I wanted to try my hand in the craft beer industry,” she says.
Kapahi began working at Borderlands Brewing—a brewery that had just opened—and worked her way up from scrubbing floors and washing kegs to becoming Head Brewer and director of operations which is her current role.
Even though she is focusing more on logistics and operations, Kapahi says you can still find her washing kegs and scrubbing floors. “I think it’s important to have your hands in everything,” she says. “It really makes you appreciate and understand the full picture of how beer is being made.”
To Kapahi, her role expands beyond crafting beer. As one of the first women in the brewing industry in Tucson she has worked with women in Mexico that are also part of the beer crafting industry and wants to use her role and influence to further equity and elevate and empower other women to do the same.
One project that Kapahi co-founded in 2019 and is one of her passions is the Las Hermanas Beer Collaboration Project which is an annual event where women in the brewing industry from both sides of the Mexican and American borders come together and brew beer. “One of the most unique aspects of this project is getting together with women and talking about what it’s like to be women in the beer industry,” says Kapahi. “And how despite cultural differences, this network goes beyond beer and we can go to each other for advice and support for things even unrelated to the business."
Kapahi hopes to be able to expand the project to all of North America and even do a component in Canada.
Borderlands Brewing has plans of opening two more locations in the new future and Kapahi’s role has also taken a turn to the administrative side leading her to begin her MBA journey at the Eller College. “I want to increase my management skill set and be able to help the business in other ways,” she says. “And beyond the company, the MBA will help me in the other projects that I’m part of by expanding those networking skills with other businesses and communities.”
Kapahi believes that the risk she took by switching gears from her research position to her passion in brewing was worth it, and wants to make sure that others know that those risks that are taken in life are what will give you the most gratitude at the end of the day. “When you find something that you are passionate about, it makes a world of a difference not only in your quality of life, but also how you translate that work to the community around you.”