Maker’s Mark President Bill Samuels Jr. is retiring.
Samuels’s father founded the distillery in the 1950s and passed it on to him in 1975. In his tenure, Samuels Jr. has seen bourbon grow from a relatively niche product to an internationally-popular spirit. Samuels says when he took over the distillery, it produced about 55 thousand cases of bourbon a year. Last year, he oversaw the shipment of more than one million cases.
“I’ve got the Joe DiMaggio thing. I don’t like to step down when things are in chaos,” he says. “DiMaggio had the good sense to retire when he was on top and we’ve had an unbelievable year.”
Samuels will remain on staff at Maker’s Mark as chairman emeritus, but will hand over control of the company on to his son, Rob Samuels, who is currently the chief operating officer. The transition will formally take place on April 15th. Bill Samuels says even though the company is bigger, his son is well-equipped to take over control
“He’s the same age that I was when I took over the operations of business,” he says. “He’s 36, I was actually 35 and a half. And he knows what he’s doing. There will actually be a leadership improvement.”
Samuels says the company, and the bourbon industry in general, will continue to grow—a multimillion dollar expansion of the Loretto-based distillery is currently underway.
“To my knowledge, every other distillery has a major capital project in one form or another underway right now and we’re all growing jobs,” he says.
Maker’s Mark has about 130 employees. Samuels says international interest in bourbon has increased, and he predicts a sharp rise in overseas sales in the coming decade. But it’s precarious, he says, because bourbon is an aged product, and must be produced based on anticipated sales, not current demand.