Leonard Goldstein, retired CEO of Miller Brewery and longtime UW-Milwaukee Executive-in-Residence, was seventeen when he sat down at dinner with Albert Einstein.
Goldstein attended Princeton University, the long-standing learning institution which during the mid-1940s was populated by mostly members of the Army, Navy and Marines. The academics were very demanding, and the Princeton administration wanted to reward the students for their hard work regarding the rigorous academics. Every Tuesday, officials would draw six names in a lottery of all eligible students, and the lucky ones that were chosen would get to eat dinner with Einstein, who was researching at Princeton during his retirement. In the 1940s, Albert Einstein was a household name and object of awe and fascination, just as he is today. This impression of Einstein was even more amplified during his lifetime of 76 years from 1879 to 1955, as those in the world around him saw his cultural impact and his actions altering the state of the world in real time.
Goldstein was one of the six people chosen from the lottery.
“For me this was pure luck, or as we call it, serendipity,” Goldstein said. “I remember calling my parents and telling them what happened, and they couldn’t believe it.”
“Einstein was probably one of the smartest people that has ever been on the planet,” said James Beckers, science teacher.
Goldstein stepped through Einstein’s door and was not surprised at what he saw.
“He is just like you see in the pictures of him [with] the hair wild,” Goldstein said. “I remember he was wearing a sweatshirt and he had wingtip black shoes on but with no socks and not laced up.”
The house, Goldstein said, was filled with old furniture and stacks of novels and informational books.
“There didn’t seem to be much carpeting, but books and papers all over the place,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein said that in the room also was a man who seemed to be Einstein’s secretary and an unknown woman.
“There were no formal introductions,” Goldstein said. “It began by having Einstein say to us, ‘I am a mathematician. But what you might not know is, I also play the violin.’ And he said, ‘What I would like to do if you would like is to play a little Mozart for you.’”
“He spoke in a very soft voice, but [with] a guttural German accent. So it was kind of difficult [to understand him]. You had to really listen to get what he was saying,” Goldstein said.
After this unconventional introduction, they sat down together. Goldstein was surprised about the topics of conversation that Einstein chose to explore with him.
“We didn’t talk about the war or what was happening there or what his influence was. He was trying to get us to speak, but we were in such awe of just being there,” Goldstein said.
After the meeting with Einstein, Goldstein said he went on to serve in the U.S. Army until World War II ended in 1945. For one year, he was in charge of writing memos and bulletins for Major M.F. Smith.
After his time in the military, Goldstein then went back home to New York and attended NYU, graduating with a marketing degree.
This led him to his most recent career. “There was no such thing as Craigslist in those days,” said Goldstein. In place of scouring the internet for job-related clues, he picked up a New York Times newspaper and saw an advertisement for a local brewery in New York that wanted to hire 100 college graduates in marketing for an eight-week job to launch a new product.
“I thought to myself, it’s only eight weeks, but I don’t know anything about beer, but I do like marketing and it might be fun … I loved it.”
Goldstein said that this was one of the building blocks he used to become the CEO of Miller Brewery in Milwaukee.
“[Goldstein] is warm, engaging and gracious to everyone he meets,” said Janice Miller, UWM Senior Associate Dean.
by Katie Eder