Bill Samuels, Jr.
Chairman Emeritus, Maker’s Mark Distillery
While his father forever changed the bourbon industry with the introduction of Maker’s Mark Bourbon in the early 1950s, Bill Samuels, Jr., was born into a family that had been making whisky in the U.S. for six generations. In 1784, Robert Samuels mustered out of George Washington’s Army, resettled in Kentucky with his father’s 60-gallon copper still and began a tradition of distilling success. Bill, Jr., carried that torch as president and CEO of Maker’s Mark for 35 years, and today that success continues under the guidance of his son, Rob Samuels. Born in 1940 as the godson of Jim Beam, Bill, Jr., grew up on Distiller’s Row in Bardstown, KY. His early education included a Ph.D. in salesmanship by driving Colonel Sanders around Kentucky just as he was launching his chicken business. Later, he earned a degree in engineering physics, helped design the Gemini and Polaris missiles and became friends with the founding administrator of NASA. Then, it was on to law school and the White House (as an intern) before joining the family business. Bill, Jr., assumed leadership of Maker’s Mark in the mid-1970s and followed his father’s stern but simple piece of advice to not “screw up the whisky.” Despite the labor-intensive, largely inefficient methods used to handcraft Maker’s Mark, he stuck with every step in the process his father perfected, even as the brand – and demand – grew exponentially over the years. Some of his contributions to the brand and the bourbon industry include: the creation of the Maker’s Mark Ambassador program as a way to build camaraderie among brand fans; the realization of his mother’s dream to turn Bourbon Country (and in turn, the Maker’s Mark Distillery) into a major tourism destination; and the introduction of the distillery’s first new expression of his father’s whisky, Maker’s 46. He has chaired the board of more than 25 different non-profit organizations over the course of his career. He has been recognized as Kentucky’s Entrepreneur of the Year on three occasions and was named Louisville’s 2004 Citizen of the Year. Further, he was honored by Ernst & Young as Kentucky’s 2011 Lifetime Achievement Entrepreneur, was inducted into the Kentucky Business Hall of Fame in 2006, and was part of the inaugural class of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2001.