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Son of the founder of Maker’s Mark spills secrets to success

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REUTERS/Keith Bedford

By Chris Taylor

Bourbon is a multi-billion-dollar business, but it began with just a few pioneering Kentucky families from Bardstown who all lived down the road from each other.

One of those iconic families started around 1790 and is still in the business. Bill Samuels Jr., son of the founder of Maker’s Mark, is chairman emeritus of the brand after 35 years as president and CEO. His son Rob currently runs the company – part of the Beam Suntory brand family since 2014 – but Bill Samuels is still a workhorse, giving speeches and running distillery tours.

We talked to Samuels about how he helped his family transform a homespun hobby into a global phenomenon.

Q: Your dad created Maker’s Mark. What lessons did you learn from him?

A: It was really a hobby for him. He just wanted to focus on creating a bourbon that actually tasted good, because back in the ’50s bourbon wasn’t really known for that. Of course his idea turned out to be a stroke of genius. But at first it didn’t seem like genius, because for a long time there wasn’t much of a business.

Q: What did you take away from your relationship with Jim Beam, who was your neighbor and godfather?

A: He was the best guy who ever lived. He had the greatest natural sales personality I have ever been around, and was always able to put people at ease. He was also a natural at harassing people, and my father and grandfather were his two favorite targets. From him I learned a lot of details about my family that they didn’t want shared.

Q: You even knew KFC’s Colonel Sanders?

A: At the time he had a little restaurant in Kentucky that we would go to, and he and my dad were gin rummy partners. That’s how it started. He was a real intense, restless man, and he had to find something to do, so instead of retiring he started his chicken business.

When I got my driver’s permit in 1955, he asked me if I wanted to help him, so I drove him around the state as he sold his chicken recipe. There weren’t any franchises then, it was just a menu item in family restaurants.

Q: When you joined your dad’s company and helped him grow it to what it is today, what did you learn about entrepreneurship?

A: When I came back from my career in the aerospace industry, he set me up in a little 10×12 office out by the airport. We had to figure out how to commercialize the business. So he pulled out his briefcase and gave me a sheet of paper with my three-word job description on it: “Go find customers.” And then he told me, by the way, don’t screw up the whisky.

Q: When things became a big success, how did you handle that wealth?

A: For a long time we didn’t have any money, growing up on a farm in Kentucky. But by the 1980s, when I decided I was a big success in the bourbon business, I thought it would be a good time to shift resources and become a thoroughbred racehorse owner. That was a total disaster. I haven’t forgotten it to this day.

Q: Were there ever times when you thought the business wasn’t going to make it?

A: Oh my God, yes. We started in 1953, and didn’t make a profit until 1968, when we made $2,000. And that profit was only because my dad wasn’t taking a salary. Now it’s worth several billion dollars, but a lot of that value can be traced back to the discipline of the early days. He did all the heavy lifting before I even grew up.

Q: Your son runs the business now, so what advice have you given him?

A: I have gone out of my way to not tell my son what to do. I wanted to bring him into the process and then get out of the way, which turned out to be exactly the right thing to do. Of the three of us, he is the true entrepreneur. My dad was the perfect craftsman, and I’m somewhere in between. My son has been nice enough to allow me to keep my little office, and lets me take all the bourbon I can steal for drinking purposes.

(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Dan Grebler)

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Say hello to the iCar? Volkswagen turns to Apple for help making electric cars

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By Andreas Cremer

Volkswagen is looking at Apple products for guidance on how to style its new generation of electric cars, its top designer said, as the automaker aims to turn profits on battery-powered vehicles when they launch in 2020.

The U.S. tech giant has brought about a design aesthetic with its iPhone and iPad that set it apart from rivals such as Samsung Electronics Co Ltd; and Sony Corp and helped make it the most valuable company in the world.

For Europe’s biggest automaker, adopting simplicity as the guiding principle for future styling of electric vehicles (EVs) marks a departure from the era before its 2015 “dieselgate” emissions scandal, when vehicle design conveyed the German group’s engineering prowess and technological ambitions.

“We are currently redefining the Volkswagen values for the age of electrification,” Klaus Bischoff, head of VW brand design, said in an interview. “What’s at stake is to be as significant, purist and clear as possible and also to visualize a completely new architecture.”

With regulators slashing emissions on a fast timetable, dieselgate has also energized the costly shift to EVs that is necessary to compete in China, VW’s largest market, and to avoid future fines in Europe.

Previously a laggard on electrification, VW has pledged 34 billion euros ($42.45 billion) of investment in EVs, self-driving technology and digital mobility businesses across the group by 2022.

The core namesake brand alone will spend 6 billion euros on a new modular platform dubbed MEB designed to underpin over 20 purely battery-powered models such as the I.D. hatchback, I.D. Crozz crossover and the I.D. Buzz microbus.

Bischoff said VW will use the Geneva auto show on March 5-7 to give early guidance on what the post-I.D. generation of EVs might look like, but declined to elaborate.

Bischoff belongs to VW’s old guard, having worked a quarter of a century in VW’s design operations and the past decade as head of the core brand’s design.

He became famous through a video shot at the 2011 Frankfurt auto show that has since drawn over 2 million hits on YouTube.

It showed Bischoff being yelled at by former CEO Martin Winterkorn, who was inspecting a model by South Korean rival Hyundai and had discovered something that had displeased him.

“In the past everything was very centralized, very narrow boundaries were set on the road of success,” Bischoff said. “Today is the most exciting time of my career because I’m allowed to do things that didn’t use to exist that way.”

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‘People would die for Olympic medal, I nearly did’

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Canada’s Mark McMorris described his comeback from life-threatening injuries to the podium at the Pyeongchang Olympics as a “miracle” and said inspiring others with his story was worth more than the slopestyle bronze he won on Sunday.

Snowboarding near his home in British Columbia with his brother Craig in March, McMorris caught an edge as he took off for a jump and spiraled into a tree.

Feb 11, 2018; Pyeongchang, South Korea; Mark Mcmorris (CAN) competes in the snowboard slopestyle during the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games at Phoenix Snow Park. Mandatory Credit: Guy Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

He broke his jaw and left arm, ruptured his spleen, suffered a pelvic fracture, rib fractures and a collapsed lung.

“People would die for a medal at the Olympics and I nearly did,” he said on Monday, a day after his medal-winning run at the Phoenix Snow Park.

“It’s definitely a miracle and I’m really thankful… to be able to motivate and inspire others – that’s bigger than any medal, right?”

Feb 11, 2018; Pyeongchang, South Korea; Mark Mcmorris (CAN) reacts after his run in the snowboard slopestyle during the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games at Phoenix Snow Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 11, 2018; Pyeongchang, South Korea; Silver medalist Max Parrot (CAN), left, gold medalist Redmond Gerard (USA) and bronze medalist Mark McMorris (CAN) celebrate their victories in the snowboard slopestyle event during the medals ceremony in the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games at Medals Plaza. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

McMorris’ remarkable comeback drew praise from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who tweeted: “What a journey back to the podium for @MarkMcMorris. Mark – your tenacity and courage inspire so many of us.”

McMorris tweeted two photographs on Monday, one of him in the hospital following his crash and the other on the medal podium. They were accompanied by a caption: “Thank You Life.”

The Canadian could add yet another chapter to his success story before the end of the Games, as McMorris is seen as a gold medal contender in the new Olympic discipline of Big Air.

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

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Tokyo elementary school is so EXTRA AF with Armani uniforms for students

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A public elementary school in Tokyo’s upscale shopping district of Ginza has raised parents’ eyebrows with a plan to adopt uniforms designed by Italian fashion brand Giorgio Armani for its students, media said on Thursday.

Taimei Elementary School is introducing the uniforms for incoming pupils, each costing more than 80,000 yen ($729), including optional items, or more than three times as much as current ones, the Huffington Post said.

Armani’s Japan head office, located in Ginza, is just 200 meters (219 yards) away from the grade school.

“I was surprised, and wondered why such luxury brand-designed uniforms have been picked for a public elementary school,” an unnamed mother was quoted by the Huffington Post as saying.

“I’m worried that a wrong notion that something expensive is good and something cheap is bad could be imprinted on children,” said the woman, whose child is set to start at the school in April, when a new school year begins.

In a letter to parents last November, headmaster Toshitsugu Wada said Taimei was a landmark in Ginza, and the decision to adopt the Armani-designed uniforms aimed at creating an atmosphere suitable for such a school, the Huffington Post said.

Taimei officials were not immediately available for comment, but Wada posted a statement on the school’s home page, promising to provide sufficient explanation on the plan for new uniforms.

“With humility, I take the criticism that explanation has been insufficient and not well-timed. I will go on explaining carefully to those concerned.”

(Reporting by Kiyoshi TakenakaEditing by Clarence Fernandez)

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