Chairman Emeritus - Maker’s Mark Distillery
While his father forever changed the bourbon industry with the introduction of Maker’s Mark Bourbon in the 1950s, Bill Samuels Jr. was born into a family making whisky in the US 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, Kentucky. His early education included a PhD in salesmanship by driving Colonel Harland Sanders around Kentucky just as he was launching his new chicken business. Later, he earned a degree in engineering physics, helped design both 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 his father in the family business.
Bill Samuels Jr. assumed leadership of Maker’s Mark in the mid-1970s and looking back, he followed his father’s stern, but simple piece of advice to not "screw up the whisky."
To this day, Bill humbly attributes the success of Maker’s Mark to having really smart parents and some very good luck.
He is a true champion for his community, having chaired the board of more than 25 different non-profit organisations over the course of his career. For all of his efforts, he’s been recognised 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.