Grandson of Maker's Mark creator named COO in Ky.

AP News
Posted: Oct 25, 2010 3:43 PM
Grandson of Maker's Mark creator named COO in Ky.

At the Maker's Mark Distillery, Samuels family stewardship of the brand is as enduring as the red wax seal adorning the premium Kentucky bourbon. Now a new generation is taking over day-to-day management.

Rob Samuels, 36, grandson of the brand's founder, will become chief operating officer, and will double as general manager of the distillery at Loretto in central Kentucky, the brand announced Monday.

His grandfather, Bill Samuels Sr., created the recipe in the 1950s. Overseeing the whiskey's transformation into a global brand has been his father, Bill Samuels Jr., who continues as its president and CEO.

Looking ahead, Rob Samuels projected continued growth for a brand that expects 2010 production to surpass 1 million cases bottled at the Loretto distillery for the first time. The distillery is at the start of a nearly $100 million expansion that will enable production to grow by 50 percent when completed in about 18 months.

Samuels vowed in a phone interview to cling to the brand's tradition, saying he'll "never, ever waver from where we started from the taste-profile perspective."

"The growth potential for the Maker's Mark brand is enormous," he said.

Asked if his son is being groomed as his successor, Bill Samuels Jr. replied, "I would hope so."

Bill Samuels Jr., 70, in his 36th year as CEO, said the core customers used to be senior business executives, but in recent years "the spike is among younger professionals" in the 25 to 45 age group.

"I get a year older every year, and our customers get younger every year," he said. "I'm migrating away from our target audience. So we needed somebody calling the shots on a day-to-day basis who is in the middle of the age profile."

His son downplayed any quick transition: "You know Bill, he's not going anywhere by a long shot."

Maker's Mark is part of Deerfield, Ill.-based Fortune Brands Inc., whose brands also include Jim Beam.

Chuck Cowdery, an American whiskey writer and author of "Bourbon, Straight," said in an interview that Rob Samuels' promotion is a strong indication that the parent company plans to continue to let Maker's "have its own identity and to be operated _ at least as far as people see _ pretty independently."

Cowdery said "everything seems to be on pace" at Maker's. Bill Samuels Jr. said the brand is on pace for double-digit growth in the U.S. this year, despite the sluggish economic recovery.

"They can sell every drop they make and could sell more if they could make more," Cowdery said.

Since early 2006, Rob Samuels has been director of global brand development. In the past decade, the brand's export sales have soared from 20,000 cases in 2000 to a projected 110,000 cases in 2010.

Rob Samuels is the eighth generation in his family to continue the bourbon-making tradition. He's named after Robert Samuels, a Revolutionary War veteran who set up whiskey stills in Kentucky.

Growing up, Rob Samuels dabbled in various tasks at the distillery, spending time on the bottling line and in the warehouses where the whiskey ages. He worked at a bar while attending the University of South Carolina, and later worked in sales for several years for Maker's and Allied Domecq Spirits & Wine.

His most influential teachers from an early age were his father and grandfather.

"My grandfather took me by the hand and he shared with me from his perspective what he had created," he said. "And I was really just in awe of the process and the smells and everything that went into making the whiskey."

Earlier this year, Maker's introduced a new product _ Maker's 46 _ a close cousin of the original but with a different aging method in the final weeks to give the whiskey a distinct taste.