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)
15 Works of ART that will motivate you to get your life together PRONTO!
The internet is filled with motivational quotes aimed to inspire people to get off their phone and live their best life! If only double-tapping an inspirational quote on Insta would actually prompt due action to get the success you know you deserve, then everyone would be as rich and happy as Bob Saget.
Graphic design king Jeff Cole realized inspirational memes won’t do shit for your success unless their design is dope and their message doesn’t disappear after looking away from your phone. The vision needs to be a reminder in constant view. Right in front of your face. On your wall. Cole’s online canvas art company, Ikonick, has a collection of unique images that will likely give you the push you need to stop wanting a better life and commence action.(Better than the Weekend has three pieces hanging in the office.)
Here’s some that you may want to add to your wall.
You Can’t Deposit Excuses ATM
Ingredient For Success & Success Marks The Spot
No Risk. No Reward.
Mind Of A Hustler. Heart Of A King.
Remember Why You Started
Leave Your Excuses At The Door
The entire collection can be viewed on ikonick.com or Instagram @ikonick.
Now go follow us on Instagram @betterthantheweekend. And then go call your mom and tell her you love her.
Vintage Frat Is the Life of the Party on Instagram Right Now, Possibly Forever
Gone are the days of moms and dads knocking on wood that social media didn’t exist when they were young, dumb and figuring out the world. Remnants of debauchery from past generations are resurfacing on @vintagefrat, an Instagram account paying homage to legendary fraternity throwbacks.
Here’s some of the of the most lit pics from Vintage Fraternity. (Warning: You may see your mom or dad.)
“Hello Ladies, welcome to pledgeship. I’ll be your guide.”
Saturday’s are for the Brothers.
Take a moment to respect the most legendary composite of all time.
Daytona Beach ’89 was wild. #AskYourDad
There was always that one Brother who understood the meaning of life.
Here’s why your dad’s friends call him Superman.
And here’s when your dad met your mom.
Reminding the children of the future that House Hounds need to be the focus of every fraternity house.
And here’s a reminder that Benny the Beaver was probably with your girl.
Tribute to the Brother who didn’t even attend one class all semester.
Classic Spring Break transportation.
Sure, Greek Life has it’s fair share of wild times.
But @vintagefrat is a solid reminder that Greek Life is also a resume builder, putting students in positions that prepare them for the future.
Mainly, Greek Life is about togetherness. #NeverForget #AskYourDad
Go follow @vintagefrat on Instagram and then follow @betterthantheweekend.
Why University of Scranton Is the Perfect Place to Find a Husband
I’m a senior at The University of Scranton in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I’m here to tell you why my school is the perfect place to find a husband.
From the day I arrived as a freshman in search of a degree and a good time, I was told I should also search for a husband here by upperclassmen who were taking courses toward their ‘MRS’ degree. (That’s Mrs., a.k.a. a master’s degree in finding a man.) Oh, they exist. If they haven’t landed a man by the fall semester of their senior year, they’re adding extra credit hours in getting a ring by spring.
It’s not like I can blame them. I acknowledge that there’s certainly some good looking guys at this school — it’s hard not to.
But I couldn’t see myself spending the rest of my life with one. You see, there’s a distinct type of guy that typically goes to this school. They’re the epitome of a rich, preppy white guy.
They tuck in their pastel button-down shirts and sport a pair of loafers to hit the bar scene on a Friday night. Their idea of dressing down is wearing a $42 plain-white Vineyard Vine T-Shirt. They dress like a middle-aged, balding, career-crazed father of three.
Oh, and they drink like one, too. They basically look and act like a stereotypical man in their 40s who is unhappy with his wife, life, and needs to binge-drink, binge-smoke and binge-fuck his way out of jumping out of the top floor of the Wall Street skyscraper he works in.
Meanwhile, all I want is a cute guy who takes his schoolwork seriously, has a little height on me and wants to eat chicken wings off my curvy bottom.
But my options seem to be limited to college boys who look like they’re trying to impersonate their fathers.
I guess the girls who told me The University of Scranton is the perfect place to find a husband were right. I just didn’t know they looked like a 42-year-old alumni’s husband.
I guess my only chance at getting a ring by spring is if one of them saves the dad-look for when they actually work on Wall Street. But I’m cool enjoying my senior year with my friends. My philosophy in life is that everything happens for a reason and plans are a waste of time.
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