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In April 2011, Bill Samuels Jr. will retire as president of Maker’s Mark, the world's oldest operating bourbon distillery and a National Historic Landmark, and transition into the new role of chairman emeritus for the iconic global brand. His son, Rob Samuels, who was appointed chief operating officer in October 2010, will lead the Maker’s Mark organization going forward. The announcement was made January 12 by Matthew J. Shattock, president and chief executive officer of Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Inc.
“Bill Samuels reinvented the way bourbon was marketed at a time when the industry needed it most,” Shattock said. “He forever changed the bourbon industry while building Maker’s Mark into a global brand and staying true to his family’s commitment to handcraftsmanship. We’re pleased that Rob Samuels, as Maker’s Mark chief operating officer, will follow in his footsteps as Bill travels throughout the world on behalf of the brand as chairman emeritus.”
Bill Samuels Jr. has been at the helm of Maker’s Mark for 35 years, and has overseen the growth of the brand from a Kentucky “cult” bourbon into a national icon that gave rise to the modern era of bourbon. Samuels is the son of Maker’s Mark founder Bill Samuels Sr. and the seventh generation to continue the family’s tradition of bourbon making first started in Kentucky by Robert Samuels in 1784. Since taking over the business from his father in 1975, Maker’s Mark has experienced double-digit growth year-on-year, and the Maker’s Mark Distillery has become one of the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting more than 100,000 visitors annually from the world over.
“A lot has changed in the spirits industry since we first started selling Maker’s Mark, but I’ve made sure all along that the way we craft our bourbon has remained the same as when we first started,” said Samuels. “Our heritage and craft is what makes us unique and ensures our quality.”
Samuels continued, “Now that we’ve achieved the milestone of one million cases as a brand, it’s the perfect time to transition the day-to-day running of Maker’s Mark to Rob, who will carry on our family traditions. I look forward to taking on this new role and meeting with our brand fans in markets around the world.”
Samuels Jr. will officially step down as president and transition to chairman emeritus on Friday, April 15, during the Maker’s Mark Mile, a Grade-1 thoroughbred horserace held at the historic Keeneland Racetrack in Lexington, Ky., which will be the 15th and last year for the running of the race. A private event will be held the following day at the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Ky., for brand Ambassadors and invited guests to celebrate the retirement of the venerable bourbon baron.
Together with his father, Samuels Jr. created the premium bourbon category. A true pioneer and innovator, Samuels has forged a rich and enduring legacy, without ever intending to do so. From the brand’s tongue-in-cheek advertising campaigns, to the industry pioneering brand Ambassador Program and the engaging Distillery visitor experience, Samuels helped transform Maker’s Mark from a bourbon into a lifestyle. Last summer, Samuels introduced what may well become one of his most defining contributions, Maker’s 46, the highly acclaimed first new bourbon from the Maker’s Mark Distillery in 52 years.
Growing up the son of a bourbon maker, and with Jim Beam as his godfather, everyone expected Samuels to work in the whisky industry. Always the contrarian and, to the surprise and consternation of many friends and family, Samuels decided to pursue other interests. He studied rocket science at the Case Institute of Technology and University of California-Berkeley, and then went on to Vanderbilt University, where he earned a law degree before eventually deciding to join the family business and take on the marketing and promotion of what was then an emerging, local “cult” bourbon.
Said Samuels, “My career has been an incredible journey and, over the last 43 years, I have always stayed true to my fundamental belief that the most successful way to build Maker’s Mark is one brand fan at a time and to let brand fans become our most influential advocates. I have no doubt that the future of Maker’s Mark is in the best of hands with Rob at the helm as COO and that the best is yet to come as the brand’s popularity continues to swell both in the U.S. and internationally.”
Maker's Mark President Bill Samuels, Jr. with Son and Chief Operating Officer Rob Samuels. (Photo: Business Wire)