Eric Molson today officially stepped down from the board at Molson Coors Brewing Co., ending nearly 50 years of service at one of Canadas great companies. The family patriarch never desired to become CEO of the company his great-great-great grandfather started in 1786, but after starting a series of technical and management jobs at the brewery in 1960, he ended up being the chairman in 1988.
History may end up showing that Eric Molson was on watch when his familys brewery sold an 80.1% stake in the Montreal Canadiens in 2001 to American businessman George Gillett Jr. for US$184 million. History may also show that it was Molson who finally succumbed to the pressures of an increasingly globalized beer industry and merged with Coors Brewing Co. Critics suggested the deals were just two more examples of Canadians selling out to American interests. But that would be a bad rap.
The company sold the Canadiens partly because it was trying to refocus its attention on being a beer company, dismantling what had become a diverse and unwieldy conglomerate by the late 1990s. By 2004, even that focus was not enough to compete in an industry where the giants were getting bigger and bigger. Molson had a choice: become a Canadian-only player in a stagnating market or join the global community. That Eric Molson helped engineer a deal that gave him 50% control of what would be the worlds fifth-largest brewernot to mention a pretty sweet special cash dividend of $5.44 for existing shareholdersshould be applauded (although it would have been nice for Montreal to be the official headquarters, not Denver).
Notoriously shy of the media, Molson gave few interviews. It took seven years before he finally agreed to a Canadian BusinessLive & Learn profile, but even then he had three conditions: the interview had to be in-person at a location of his choosing, his sons, Andrew and Geoff, had to be present, and the interview could not be recorded. The first two conditions were easily met, but the third was troublesome because Live & Learn articles are a series of first-person quotes. But the interviewwent off with nary a hitch, well, except for an initial hesitance on Molsons part to say more than a few gruff syllables at a time.
Molson wasnt rude, just wary and only warmed up only after the topic of chemistry was brought up. I’m a chemist, really, Molson told me. I love brewing beer, trying beer, drinking beer, but being a chemist is the only thing I’m really good at. The rest of the stuff I learned. To take on salary administration and bonus structures gets complicated.
Molson revealed himself to be a dedicated beer baron, hockey fan and family man, often deferring to his sons knowledge or memories, and paying kudos to his long-time wife, Jane. But the Molson name isnt disappearing from the corporate organization chart along with Erics departure. His oldest son, Andrew, already a director, takes over as vice-chairman, and Geoff, currently vice-president of marketing in Quebec, is also now on the board of directors. To find out more about Andrew and Geoff, see The Molson Way.
Hopefully, the Molson legacy will live on for a few more generations. Cheers! ———————————— Anyone interested in quick sports business hits (and a few on brews, too) can check me out on Twitter @onsportsandbeer. Search by user name or my proper name. That function finally seems to be working.