In a separate note, on the MillerCoors blog, there was an equally surprising bit of news: “At the end of 2019, Pete Coors also will retire as the company’s chief customer relations officer, stepping back from his day-to-day duties at the company. He’ll continue to serve as vice chairman of the Molson Coors board and as an ambassador for the company.”
In the aftermath of these bombshells, the Coors family has been silent. Pete Coors has given no interviews — or even a canned quote. It’s a silence that speaks volumes.
It was my second time on the 46th floor, a beautiful setup that includes sweeping views of the Front Range and a bar that serves every Coors product, including its small brands. The first time had been just six months earlier, when I’d been invited up to meet all of the Coors executives as part of a happy hour with some local beer media.
I asked Pete and his two sons (he also has four daughters) a lot about the Coors name, about their long family history and what it was like to grow up with the honor — and burden — of having their name on the can. We touched on politics and labor unions, big business and craft beer, but I was also interested in hearing about what Colorado meant to Coors, and about what Coors meant to Colorado.
The answer: Everything.
And the Coors brand helped establish Colorado as a beer destination. In addition, the company employed hundreds of thousands of people over the years, brought baseball to Denver, and created an entire culture, one that defined this state for many outside of it in the ’70s, when Coors beer had such a mystique that it even inspired the film Smokey and the Bandit. And that was just the start of the company's contributions.
Pete Coors has been part of the Colorado landscape for decades, and even ran for U.S. Senate as the state's Republican candidate in 2004. He told me in 2017 that if he could do it over again, he would have insisted that when Coors joined up with SAB Miller in 2008, the headquarters stay in Colorado rather than get split between Denver and Chicago. “I’m probably going to get into trouble for saying this, but one of the biggest mistakes we made was moving it to Chicago,” he said with a laugh and a glance at Peter and David. “We lost the connection to the brewery. Knowing the beer, being able to smell it and taste it in this environment. It’s important.
“It might have been better to go to Milwaukee, even,” he concluded.
The move has been alternately attributed to marketing, to the lack of tax incentives in Colorado, to cost savings, and to the fact that new Molson Coors CEO Gavin Hattersley owns a $4 million home in Chicago.
But the decision also has the markings of a power play — one that reduces the influence of the Coors family on the company and shifts it toward new management. That's the kind of thing that outsiders have been trying to do for decades to the insular and sometimes antiquated Coors family — the kind of thing they have almost always rejected, preferring to go their own way. Coors almost went out of business a couple of times because of this stubbornness, but it also forged new ground repeatedly, becoming a global force.
This dedication to the Coors commitment also made the company stand out.
So perhaps, as Hattersley said in the release, “the company is at an inflection point,” one where “we can continue down the path we’ve been on for several years now, or we can make the significant and difficult changes necessary to get back on the right track.”
But as Peter J. Coors told me, Colorado is in the company’s DNA. So that path should have remained here, along the roads that lead from Golden to Denver and back.