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Bill Samuels Jr. Retires From Maker’s Mark Today

by Alan Lytle, Kentucky Public Radio

There’s about to be a changing of the guard at one of Kentucky’s most famous bourbon distilleries. Bill Samuels Jr., longtime president and CEO of Maker’s Mark in Loretto, is stepping down today and handing the reins over to his son, Rob Samuels.

“I expect all the innovation to keep up. He’s very motivated, very community-minded. He went to Harvard Business School. They wouldn’t let me in, so that ought to tell you something,” he says. “This is going to be the easiest transition in the history of our industry.  Normally fathers and sons are very different and it causes issues.  Rob is my youngest son and we are like, twins.”

Local News Politics

Bill Samuels Jr. To Retire As President Of Maker’s Mark

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.