Q & A: Mayor & Brewmaster General

Successful Meetings: Before taking office in 2003, you were the owner of the Wynkoop Brewing Company, the Rockies' first brew pub, which became a regional chain. Now that you're mayor, what place does hospitality have in your heart?

John W. Hickenlooper: One of the things I love about the hospitality industry is its immediate economic reward: people spending money and creating jobs.

SM: What insights has your hospitality experience given you as mayor?

Hickenlooper: Having spent almost 20 years in the hospitality business, you learn plenty about customer service, and how important it is to exceed people's expectations. In the restaurant business, when someone's very upset, you learn how to actively listen, to repeat back to them the reasons that they are upset, so that they feel validated. Citizens often feel that no one's listening—no one's taking the time to directly deal with their concerns. That same approach works very well with them.

SM: You've certainly had a tremendous amount of success getting voters' approval for capital projects that specifically promote meetings and leisure business. How do you do it?

Hickenlooper: The public and private sectors in Denver's metro area are incredibly collaborative—people are willing to invest in downtown even when they don't live here. They recognize that having a great art museum downtown, and a great baseball stadium like Coors Field, and an arena like the Pepsi Center, benefits the whole metropolitan area. When large conventions come, and the attendees experience what the city is like, the whole metro region begins to succeed and be recognized for what it is—a great place to visit, a great place to have a convention.

And everybody benefits from good word of mouth; it's the single-most powerful marketing tool. Malcolm Gladwell told me, "You can do everything else, but world of mouth is the only thing that drives any successful social trend."

SM: Even with Denver's slew of development, you are also part of the "green collar" environmental movement. How do you resolve these seemingly incongruous forces?

Hickenlooper: I'm very strong on sustainability, using much higher levels of insulation in our buildings, biodiesel fuel, and hybrid cars. We converted our whole city over to L.E.D. traffic signals that use 80 percent less energy.

The greenest city on the planet is New York; its actual energy consumption is a third less [per capita] than any city in the country. I'm not sure we want to become New York City, but I think we can find a balance and use those principles to develop a robust economy that at the same time minimizes the consequences to the environment.

SM: So what's your best brew?

Hickenlooper: At Wynkoop, the Rail- yard Ale is the best beer we ever made. Always was, and still is.