The last Coors distributor convention I attended was in Hawaii in the early 2000s. As with many others, the highlight of this convention was Bill Coors’ speech featuring that year’s business overview. As with every other Coors convention, Bill received a standing ovation from the distributors following his speech. The ovation was not for his comments, but for his many years of contributions to the beer industry and his decades of successful leadership at the helm of Coors.
In the late 1970s, when the annual Coors convention was held in Phoenix, I was the general manager of Coors of Kansas, one of the five largest volume Coors houses in the nation. The trip from Kansas to Phoenix required me to change plans in Denver. As I boarded the plane in Denver, I noticed Bill Coors sitting next to an open seat. I happily joined him on the flight to Phoenix.
At the time, Coors was just beginning to expand their footprint into the eastern U.S. The expansion was the result of the excessive volume caused by a California Farm Workers and gay right boycott. Yet, despite the boycott, Coors remained the number one selling beer in their western markets.
During the plane ride, as Bill and I discussed this topic and others, I gleaned additional appreciation for the challenges the brewery was facing. I was thankful for Bill’s time during the two-hour-long plane ride. Then, as is true now, it was most difficult for a distributor to have the privilege of spending time with such a storied industry leader.
That convention in the late 70s proved to be interesting given what the brewery was facing in California. Coors had arranged a barbeque for the distributors at an area ranch during the convention. The conversation on the bus ride to the ranch was focused on the California distributors and their complaints of lost business due to the Coors family’s anti-union policies. The distributors were having a difficult time understanding why and how our Coors business in Kansas was still growing despite the turbulent times in California.
Many years have come and gone since the Coors convention in Phoenix, but the recent announcement of Bill Coors’ passing puts an end to a period in the beer industry where dynamic leaders backed their beliefs with actions, sometimes to the determent of their wholesalers.
I have had the opportunity to work for, and spend time with, a number of beer industry leaders during my years in the industry including Harry Jersig, Bob Uhlien, Paul Kalmanovitz, Jack Joyce, Bill, Joe Coors, and others. All have left a lasting legacy on the industry. Decades from now, the leaders of the craft movement might be viewed in a similar light to these great leaders. For the well-being of the beer industry, let us hope that holds true. Their shoes are very big! Yes, it has been an interesting career.
“I’ve taken my kicks, but I have a fascinating life and I have been richly rewarded.” – Bill Coors