Preparing Boys for Life.

John Hickenlooper '70

We’re sharing innovative ideas and collaborating on ways to manage resources more efficiently, all aimed at doing a better job of delivering services to citizens. I think governors can demonstrate leadership on how to move forward on issues like tax reform and immigration, becoming more active players in national policy.

John Hickenlooper Colorado Governor

John Hickenlooper '70 at his press conference on November 5, 2014, when he thanked Colorado voters for electing him to his second term as Governor. Photo credit: Evan Semón.

John Hickenlooper ’70 has charted an atypical career path from geologist to entrepreneur to governor of Colorado. Commonalities among each of his jobs have included a willingness to take risks, a mission to collaborate with others, and a sense of accountability, which was first instilled in John at The Haverford School.

John Hickenlooper 8th grade The Haverford School

“I came to The Haverford School from Lower Merion; having a smaller environment really transformed my life,” says John. “I loved sports, and because at Haverford everyone was able to participate, I had experiences I would have never had elsewhere. Sports became a form of leadership training, my classmates helped define for me what friendship was about, and my teachers gave me limitless opportunities to invent my own reality. I remember creating “crossebee” – a combination of Frisbee and lacrosse, and writing The Thindex, our parody of The Index. At Haverford, you were responsible for your own situation; that formed the foundation for how I conducted myself in college and throughout life.”

After six years at Haverford, John followed his older brother, undefeated wrestler Syd Kennedy ’62, to Wesleyan University to study English literature. “In my senior year, it became painfully apparent that I wasn’t going to be a successful writer,” reveals John. “I sat in on a geology class – and liked it. Part of a Haverford upbringing is to go for an opportunity when it presents itself, so I pursued a master’s in geology.” John took time out of his studies to work in Costa Rica helping train young Costa Rican college students in the techniques of field geology. “For a geologist, there were only two places to go: Houston or Denver,” says John. “Bruce Conrad ’70 lived in Denver and had written these wonderful letters about how cool it was. I headed west and had five years in the oil business before the price of oil collapsed, the company was sold, and I found myself out of work.”

When it became clear that geology jobs weren’t coming back to Denver, John visited California to see his brother, who introduced him to the concept of a brewpub. It didn’t take much for John’s friends to convince him to start a brewpub of his own. “I researched how to write a business plan, raised money, found a building – a historic warehouse in downtown Denver for $1 per square foot, renovated it, and opened a restaurant," recalls John. "Wynkoop Brewing Company opened in 1988 and just like any entrepreneur, I almost went out of business several times. Every time it looked like we were going to quit, we decided to work harder.”

Within four years, John’s business took off and soon he had opened restaurants in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, Colorado; Omaha, Nebraska; and Des Moines, Iowa. The restaurants were frequent meeting spots for nonprofit boards and civic associations, many of which John was a part. Once again, John was talked into a new venture: running for mayor. “I had never run for anything, even Student Council,” jokes John. “But I did think that business people should take the lessons they learned and get involved in government.”

There was a sense that the rural areas of the state would work against the city. Somehow, I interrupted that history and we won by 13 points in 2010. Our campaign promised to be nonpartisan, more collaborative, willing to compromise, and to work for the common betterment. We treat our citizens like customers – and the customer is always right.

It was a rocky start; at the first poll, John had the support of just 3 percent of the vote. But that didn’t stop him; in 2003 he ran for mayor of Denver on the platform that government could be more collaborative and transparent. “All of a sudden, we were winning about five weeks before the election,” recalls John. “I won 2-to-1, with no negative ads – an ideal I still uphold. Part of the problem with politics is the attack ads. You never see that in business; if a company took that approach, it would end up diminishing sales in the entire product category. Attack ads diminish the product category of democracy; people stop reading about policy and initiatives. Democracy is fragile and demands that people pay attention.”

After eight years as mayor, John ran for governor of Colorado and was the first mayor of Denver to get elected in 150 years. “There was a sense that the rural areas of the state would work against the city,” says John. “Somehow, I interrupted that history and we won by 13 points in 2010. Our campaign promised to be nonpartisan, more collaborative, willing to compromise, and to work for the common betterment. We treat our citizens like customers – and the customer is always right.”

We worked with the business community to partner with nonprofits, foundations, and city government to reduce chronic homelessness by 70 percent in five years. There was a substantial budget deficit when I came in as mayor and governor, so we needed to figure out how to balance the budget without interrupting crucial services for families who were living on the edge. Also, because we’re in a semi-arid climate and a lot of our reservoirs are fed by snow from the mountains, we are addressing climate change and its effect on our water supply.

Hallmarks of John’s political career include addressing chronic issues like homelessness, balancing the state budget, and enacting the state’s first comprehensive water plan. “We worked with the business community to partner with nonprofits, foundations, and city government to reduce chronic homelessness by 70 percent in five years,” states John. “There was a substantial budget deficit when I came in as mayor and governor, so we needed to figure out how to balance the budget without interrupting crucial services for families who were living on the edge. Also, because we’re in a semi-arid climate and a lot of our reservoirs are fed by snow from the mountains, we are addressing climate change and its effect on our water supply.”

John is also leveraging his business acumen as chair of the National Governors Association. “We’re sharing innovative ideas and collaborating on ways to manage resources more efficiently, all aimed at doing a better job of delivering services to citizens,” says John. “I think governors can demonstrate leadership on how to move forward on issues like tax reform and immigration, becoming more active players in national policy.”

Although he is quick to point out his fortune in working with talented people, John credits his mother with empowering him to take control of his own destiny. “My mom was widowed after World War II and then again when I was 8 years old,” says John. “She raised four of us on her own. I learned from her that even when things look grim, if you keep working hard, things will turn out well. Don’t accept what comes at you; you have the ability – and responsibility – to create your own happiness.”

About John

John Hickenlooper Jr. is the 42nd governor of Colorado, an office he has held since 2011, and also serves as chairman of the National Governors Association. He was previously mayor of Denver and is the founder of Wynkoop Brewing Co. John earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a master’s degree in geology from Wesleyan University. He is the proud father of a 12-year-old boy, Teddy, and an avid squash player and baseball fan.