Peter Coors recalls 1969, urges tolerance for diverse ideas

Pete Coors
Chris Kitchen/University Photography
Peter Coors ’69, chairman and chief customer relations officer of Molson Coors Brewing Co., delivers the Lewis H. Durland Memorial Lecture.

At the outset of his talk, businessman Peter Coors ’69, chairman and chief customer relations officer of Molson Coors Brewing Co., made clear two points that set the tone of the 2017 Durland Lecture April 18 in the Statler Hotel amphitheater.

First, Coors declared that throughout his near 50-year career in business and politics, he has maintained a firm belief in capitalism, limited government and civil discourse. He joked that as a student he was “not always popular on this campus” because of these positions, particularly given the campus climate in the late 1960s.

Coors’ second point was that success should not only be measured by money or material accumulation but also by “successful relationships with family and friends, and how well you serve others.”

Coors said he was raised in the “lazy town” of Golden, Colorado, where the Coors firm was established by his great-grandfather Adolph Coors Sr. in the late 19th century. After attending Phillips Exeter Academy Coors came to Cornell to study engineering.

Coors said when he first joined the payroll, the company, known then as Coors Brewing, only sold beer in 11 western states and produced an annual volume of 6.3 million barrels of beer, “or 12.6 million kegs,” he said. Today, after several mergers including the Canadian Molson Brewery in 2005, the Molson Coors Brewing Co. is the world’s fifth largest brewery by volume and the third largest brewer by profit and operates in 78 countries.

During Coors’ time on the Hill, he witnessed the Willard Straight Hall takeover of 1969, which “was a time of considerable turmoil on the campus. We were engaged in a conflict in Southeast Asia; we had civil rights issues.”

Coors said that in the current era of divisiveness, the social climate, both on campus and in American society generally, has much the same feeling that it did back then.

“Why are we so divided?” Coors asked. “Why is there so much vitriol and sometimes violence, intolerance and incivility? We love to paint people with labels: liberal-conservative, moderate-progressive … everyone with the possible exception of some extremists, I suspect, embodies parts of each one of those labels.”

Despite these realities, Coors said he was encouraged by recent instances of Cornell students speaking out in favor of free speech.

“Freedom of speech, exploring diverse opinions and views, honest disagreement and civil discourse has to be the foundation of higher education, and I would expect it particularly here at Cornell, my alma mater,” Coors said. “In fact, I believe it is the critical element of diversity. … This is a type of diversity that must exist on this campus.”

The Lewis H. Durland Memorial Lecture is presented by the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. It was established in 1983 in memory of Lew Durland, treasurer emeritus of Cornell.

Robert Johnson ’17 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.

Media Contact

Joe Schwartz