Brothers Joe and Jeff Coors run the least glamorous, least famous company within their family’s business empire: ACX Technologies, a manufacturer of corrugated boxes and ceramic components. But ask them if they regret not working for Adolph Coors Co., and they’re quick to pooh-pooh the very no “I liked the beer years,” says Jeff Coors, who manages ACX’s box division. “But over time, that business became more of a sales-and-marketing game than anything else, and my skill base doesn’t lend itself to that.” Older brother Joe Coors Jr., charged with the ceramics end of things, answers a bit more poetically. “Beer is a celebration of fun,” he says. “Ceramics is about making fun.”
For Joe and Jeff, much of the fun they’ve had as co-presidents of ACX has been in transforming the company-which was spun off from Adolph Coors in 1992-from a wildly diversified conglomerate into a focused manufacturer with promising growth prospects. The brothers spent much of the past five years divesting underperforming product lines, such as high-fructose corn syrup, solar panels, and aluminum sheeting. Now they’ve turned their attention to building what they have left: Coors Ceramics Co. and Graphic Packaging Corp.
Coors Ceramics, which Adolph Coors bought in 1920, today sells 10,000 products to 6,500 customers in virtually every industry. The company makes everything from indestructible shirt buttons to valves for drink dispensers. “The products are used in place of plastic or steel, which can corrode or get dirty,” Joe explains. “Ceramic is thermo-resistant, hard, and stable.”
While Coors Ceramics bears no relation to Coors Beer, Graphic Packaging does. Graphic Packaging grew out of the company’s need to ship sweaty beer cans in something other than standard boxes. “Beer leaves the brewery close to freezing, so there’s a lot of condensation,” Jeff says. “That makes traditional cartons soggy, and they fall apart.” So the company invented a laminated box with a metal lining that prevents moisture from getting in or out.
Eventually Coors began marketing the product to other firms. Today 90 percent of all dishwashing detergent-which can clump up if exposed to moisture-is packed in Coors’ boxes, as are several bar soaps and snack foods.
Although the products made by ACX’s two divisions have little in common, the techniques used to sell them are remarkably similar. Both operate in highly fragmented industries, where manufacturers must set themselves apart not through their products, but rather by how well they meet their customers’ needs. “This is a relationship business,” Jeff says. “You develop an account, and then you service the heck out of it.” Adds Joe, “It’s a combination of price, delivery, and quality service-what I call the PDQs. We think where we succeed is in offering the best of those.” One way they do that is by manufacturing everything just in time, thanks to a bit of excess plant capacity. Graphic Packaging, for example, designed, manufactured, and delivered a Monopoly box for a McDonald’s promotion in three weeks.
But the brothers know that quality service won’t be enough to sustain profits, so they have set their sights on enhancing growth-both internally and externally. In the last two years, Coors Ceramics added several new products, including diesel-engine components, airbag initiators and components for the petrochemical market. Graphics Packaging increased its focus on art-producing boxes with eye-catching features such as holographics and transparent ink for products ranging from Pepsodent to Wheaties.
Both divisions have been on the prowl for companies that complement their core strengths. In 1997, Coors Ceramics acquired Tetrafluor, adding Teflon to its menu of materials. And Graphic Packaging bought Universal Packaging Corp., a leading producer of folding cartons. The addition immediately pushed Graphic Packaging’s sales up 60 percent.
All told, ACX’s 1997 revenue increased 2.7 percent from the year before to $731 million, 60 percent of which came from Graphic Packaging. And a 1996 loss of $3.30 per share turned into a gain of $0.99 a share for 1997. Analysts estimate ACX will earn $1.75 in fiscal 1998 (ending December) and $2.07 in 1999.
The brothers-two of 12 Coors family members still active in the business-are confident that they can meet those expectations, largely because they work so well together. “Two things bind us together: our heritage and the fact that we have mutual respect for each others’ strengths,” Joe says. “Jeff is very deliberate and thorough. I tend to be like a jackrabbit.” Jeff agrees. “He’ll want to move real quick, and I’ll say, ‘Wait, we have to analyze this.’ So we compromise. It works amazingly well.”
Birthplace: Philadelphia, PA
Family: Wife: Gail; children: Brad, Doug, Holly, Darden.
Education: B.S., North Carolina State University, 1964.
Pastimes: Golf, softball, basketball, acting as chairman of the Air Force Memorial Foundation.
Favorite Golf Destination: Pebble Beach
Birthplace: Greenwich, CT
Family: Wife: Lis; children: Carin, Lisette, Christina, Timothy, Sarah, Anne-Marie. Education: B.S., M.S., Cornell University, 1967 and 1968.
Pastimes: Skiing, tennis, backpacking.
Favorite Hiking Destination: Colorado mountains.