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Brewing Controversy : Coors Clan: Doing It Their Way

First of two parts. Next: Holly and the kids.

September 18, 1988|BELLA STUMBO | Times Staff Writer

GOLDEN, Colo. — Like most of the men in the family, Jeff Coors, 43, new president of the Adolph Coors Co., is quiet, friendly, totally unaffected and given to startling remarks. Sitting in his office on the brewery grounds, here is the first thing he said:

"Jeez, I hope you don't try to paint this family as some sort of idealistic, above-it-all kind of family. There are no fairy tales involved in this family. I get really upset with some (media) articles that try to paint this family as somehow Cinderella-like . . . you know, all lovey-dovey."

He made sardonic reference to a magazine photo he'd seen. "I mean, here you had my mother and father, with all their kids and grandkids, with all these smiling faces. So, you think: 'Oh, what a wonderful family!' And my father has a mistress all the time!"

Now, there's a curious comment. Not so odd, maybe, the son drawing attention to the fact that Dad just ran out on Mom, after 48 years, for a younger woman, and has gone off to live in the lazy, hazy climes of Northern California wine country. The whole town's been burning up the phone wires gossiping about it ever since, anyway. And if there's one thing that instantly stands out about the Coors clan, it's that they're among the bluntest, most straightforward people around.

But the Adolph Coors Co. has hardly been deluged with lovey-dovey publicity these last few years. To the contrary, for better than a decade, Coors has been the company Americans most love to hate: boycotted by organized labor, racial minorities, women, gays, students, teachers and countless other special-interest groups.

And the Coors family itself has been routinely denounced as racist, sexist, union-bashing, right-wing fanatics--particularly the two patriarchs, brothers William, 72, and Joseph, 71. In fact, when the senior Coorses announced a couple of years ago that they were turning day-to-day operation of the company over to the younger generation, critics groaned with relief.

Optimists predicted the dawning of a new age at Coors. Even Lane Kirkland, president of the AFL-CIO, praised the "more positive approach taken by (the new) management" during negotiations last summer, which resulted in an end to labor's 10-year-old boycott of Coors beer in exchange for the company's promise not to interfere with union organizing at the brewery.

But never mind that for a minute. Jeff Coors wasn't finished with his dad (Joe): Joe Sr. is an adulterer and, therefore, a sinner, along with homosexuals, gluttons, blasphemers, murderers, liars and a whole bunch of others. All five of Joe Coors' sons, inspired by their mother, Holly, 67, are self-described, "born-again" Christian fundamentalists. Hard core.

The oldest son, Joe Jr., 45, for instance, even lists "Biblical Prophecy" as a hobby, along with golf, on his company resume, and the whole family is awaiting Armageddon, which Joe Jr. believes will occur around the year 2,000.

Meantime, they just hope Joe Sr. can clean up his act in time. "I really love the guy, he's a neat person," said Jeff Coors. "But there are certain areas in your life that you struggle with, you know? That you don't know how to handle, so you do crazy things. We all do. But we're all praying for him. Regularly."

But enough small talk.

Highest Paid

As president of Adolph Coors Co., Jeff Coors--the highest paid of the Coors sons at $350,000 per year--has larger concerns these days: Namely, after more than a decade of good riddance, organized labor is back. Union activists are now prowling about his property, lurking in every town cafe and bar, trying to convince Coors employees--the only non-unionized brewery workers in the nation--that they need a union.

Not much can send a member of the Coors family in faster search of the Excedrin than the notion of some pushy bunch of union bosses trying to tell them how to run their business.

In the first place, ever since Adolph Coors, a young Prussian immigrant, then 26, founded his modest little brewery here on the banks of Clear Creek in 1873, Coors has been unique among breweries for its determined self-reliance. It has always either owned or controlled almost every aspect of the beer-making process, from barley farms to hops and malt; it brews all its beer here and only recently opened a second facility in Shenandoah, Va., for bottling only, and Coors is nearly legendary for its reluctance to borrow money. It only went public in 1975--and then sold only about 15% of its stock to outside shareholders, on a non-voting basis.

Also, not since Prohibition has Coors put all its eggs in one basket. It is instead widely diversified, with subsidiaries engaged in everything from the production of ceramics to military technology systems.

And so it was truly a match made in hell when, who did the AFL-CIO dispatch to conquer this God-fearing, archconservative dynasty but that roughest, toughest, most notorious, federally investigated union of them all, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

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