I last saw Carlos Alvarez in January.  He was his usual self—welcoming, unhurried, and insatiably curious about the year ahead for the Texas Business Hall of Fame, into which he was inducted in 2010 and for which I serve as executive director. Carlos had just purchased a piece of technology to send to an entrepreneur whose start-up he had helped our organization fund. That innovator was developing a technology similar to the one Carlos had bought, and Carlos smiled as he predicted how passionately the young man would explain how what he was working on was far more transformative. That was the beauty of Carlos. He delighted in the successes of others and rarely talked about his own. 

Carlos was the first Mexican-born Texan to be inducted into the Hall of Fame—a distinction that filled him with pride. He was creative and persistent, and he believed that those qualities were crucial in determining one’s journey.  When the Hall of Fame inducted John Paul DeJoria, founder of Patrón tequila and cofounder of the company behind Paul Mitchell hair products, in 2021, it was not only because of John Paul’s accomplishments but also because Carlos tirelessly supported his nomination. He did not know John Paul. He only knew his story and, I am guessing, saw in him a fellow master marketer whose imagination and pluck, like his own, had transformed an entire industry. 

Born in Mexico City, Carlos grew up in Acapulco, where his father had established a prominent beer distribution company. After earning a degree in biochemical engineering from the Monterrey Institute of Technology​, Carlos followed in his father’s footsteps, joining Grupo Modelo as an export manager.

In 1981, he was asked to bring Corona to the U.S. with no marketing budget and close to no brand-name recognition. Carlos began by championing a new and distinctive bottle for Corona: clear, with a long neck and a painted label. Then he drove to bars and restaurants in Austin, casually leaving half-empty Corona bottles in the restrooms and on jukeboxes and selling cases of the stuff. Carlos soon turned Corona into a giant, and in the late nineties it became the number one imported beer in the U.S. In the mid-eighties Carlos Alvarez opened additional export markets in Australia, Canada, Japan, and New Zealand. Today Corona is available and popular in more than 150 countries, and its success is a source of pride for Mexicans and Mexican Americans.

Carlos would go on to establish the Gambrinus Company in San Antonio in 1986. He would grow the brand through strategic acquisitions. In 1989, he acquired the Spoetzl Brewery—the oldest independent beer maker in Texas. Spoetzl was at risk of going out of business, but Carlos recognized its potential and quickly turned it around and into one of the leading craft brewers in the nation. Today Shiner is available across the United States and ranks as one of the country’s top-selling craft beers.

A key element in Carlos’s success as a marketer was his belief in the quality of his products, as well as his personal enjoyment of them. He knew and loved all kinds of beer, from hearty porters and stouts to German pilsners and India pale ales, and if you asked, he would share his views on which ones best complimented which foods. But the beers he liked best, he said with a smile—and often with a bottle in hand—were Corona and Shiner.

As his fortune grew, Carlos, with his wife, Malú, donated tens of millions of dollars to expanding educational opportunities in his beloved San Antonio. Recipients included the Alamo Colleges District, St. Mary’s University, the University of the Incarnate Word, and the University of Texas at San Antonio, to which Carlos and Malú gave $20 million in 2021—the institution’s largest gift from a living donor. The Carlos Alvarez College of Business is now one of the largest business schools in the U.S.

Carlos didn’t just give. He showed up. He served actively on the boards of organizations such as the Free Trade Alliance, Haven for Hope, United Way of San Antonio, and the World Affairs Council of San Antonio. He was also a major supporter of the ambitious renovation of the Alamo, including through funding a rooftop terrace overlooking the mission’s gardens, which was dedicated just this past Monday, in a ceremony that he and Malú attended.

Anyone involved in public life in San Antonio knew Carlos—because he showed up at all sorts of public events. At galas, he would, of course, mingle with other big donors and dignitaries. But he also chatted with staff: asking about their plans and encouraging others to reach further.

Carlos believed in the American dream and viewed it through a unique—and perhaps clearer—lens than many of us who were born here. As a young beer salesman, he had found the owners and managers of small businesses in Austin open to new ideas and new products. He built on those early opportunities to turn Corona into an industry giant and to later take a small, failing brewery in Shiner to new heights, helping create an entirely new market and line of demand for craft beer. Whenever he was questioned about his success with Shiner Bock, he never talked about the innovation he led at the company. He instead spoke about how deeply he appreciated the devotion to quality and affordability that he found there. What most entrepreneurs would call transformation and pioneering, Carlos viewed as learning, with respect and humility, what he did not know and leveraging that knowledge to market a product.

Very few of those who attended the Texas Business Hall of Fame’s 2021 induction event will forget Carlos’s introduction of John Paul DeJoria. We had given him a strict two-minute limit for his talk. Rather than ignoring the time limit or selecting just a few points to cover, Carlos opted to sing a song in Spanish—a song he loved and adapted for DeJoria that recognized him as a hero. It was funny, and it was one of the most touching moments in the hall’s 42-year history. We will miss Carlos, but his spirit will live on in all who knew him. It will live in Malú and the couple’s two daughters and two grandchildren. It will live on in the lives of all those who, thanks to his warm encouragement and generosity, will be the first in their families to attend college, build a business, or succeed in a way beyond their wildest imagination because they were touched by the vision of Carlos Alvarez.

Meredith Walker is executive director of the Texas Business Hall of Fame.