Cans of Molson Coors Brewing Co. Coors Light brand beer are arranged for a photograph in Madison, Connecticut, U.S. (Photographer: Alex Flynn/Bloomberg)

Bill Coors, Former Chairman of Namesake Brewery, Dies at 102

(Bloomberg) -- William Coors, an heir to the Coors brewing dynasty who helped transform a local product into a national brand, has died. He was 102.

He died at his home on Saturday, according to a statement from Molson Coors Brewing Co. No cause of death was indicated.

Bill Coors, Former Chairman of Namesake Brewery, Dies at 102

Better known as Bill, Coors took control of the enterprise after his older brother, Adolph III, was murdered at age 44 in a bungled kidnapping in 1960. A grandson of the founder of Golden, Colorado-based Adolph Coors Co., Bill Coors turned a brand sold in western U.S. states into a nationwide competitor to Anheuser-Busch Cos. and Miller Brewing Co. The family business traces its roots to 1873 when German-born Adolph Coors started the brewery after arriving in the U.S. as a stowaway on a ship.

Joining the company in 1939, Bill Coors pioneered the use of recyclable aluminum cans, developed filtration and packaging systems that eliminated the need for pasteurization, and added Coors Light to its roster, according to the company’s website.

“If you were going to establish a long-range strategic business plan for your company, you would describe that plan in one word: survival,” Bill Coors said in an interview for his 1996 induction into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame.

‘Survival’ Plan

He was chief executive officer until 2000, when his nephew Peter Coors took over, and left the company’s board in 2003 after 64 years at the family business where he also had served as chairman.

With his brother Joseph Coors Sr. as president and chief operating officer, Bill Coors ran a business that focused on the making, rather than the selling, of its beer. Overlooking the industry’s marketing drive of the 1970s, Coors conceded market share to competitors while busting the brewery’s union by replacing striking employees, alienating minority groups and monitoring staff for signs of disloyalty, according Dan Baum’s 2000 book “Citizen Coors.”

The Coors clan’s conservative political views and workplace policies led to a bitter boycott from unions, blacks, Hispanics and the gay and lesbian community, beginning in the 1970s.

Addressing Complaints

The brewer initiated a public-relations campaign in the 1990s, hiring Mary Cheney, the openly lesbian daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, to burnish the Coors brand with gay-rights groups, according to a 2000 Salon.com article. The company has since instituted internal policies banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, offered domestic-partnership benefits and provided financial support to gay-rights organizations.

The AFL-CIO lifted its boycott in the mid-1980s after the company agreed to let unions organize the brewer’s workers. The beer maker also pledged to raise minority employment, invest in black and Latino communities and support minority distributors to counter calls for boycotts from civil-rights organizers such as Jesse Jackson.

Joseph Coors Sr. was best known for co-founding the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, and backing Ronald Reagan’s bid for the presidency. He and his brother nurtured the conservative movement of the 1970s through funding from the Adolph Coors Foundation.

Molson Merger

After expanding the brand to all 50 states in the 1980s and ’90s, Adolph Coors Co. merged with Molson Inc., Canada’s biggest beer maker, to form Molson Coors Brewing Co. in 2005. Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, which makes Budweiser, is the world’s largest brewer.

William Kistler Coors was born Aug. 11, 1916, in Colorado. The son of Adolph Coors II and the former Alice Kistler, Bill Coors was the second of four children. He attended Princeton University, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering.

Completing his studies in 1939, he sought a job at DuPont Co. to avoid taking advantage of his birthright.

“I felt guilty about it, so I actually went out and got myself a job,” he said. “I was a chemical engineer, and chemical engineers at that point were in demand.”

He retired in 2003 at age 86, though he continued as chief technical adviser to the family business.

With his second wife, Phyllis, he had a son, Scott. A daughter from his first marriage, Geraldine, died in 1983. His brother Joseph died in 2003.

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