We’re honored to announce that Heaven Hill President Max Shapira has been inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame and awarded the prestigious Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award.
The award, named after former Heaven Hill Master Distiller Parker Beam, brings Shapira full circle with the man who helped him turn Heaven Hill into what it is today. Beam became Master Distiller in 1975 and worked in tandem with Shapira to oversee decades of expansion and innovation. The honor of sharing today’s induction with Parker Beam makes the award even more special for Shapira.
Testament to his half a century of leadership, bravery, and innovation at Heaven Hill is our standing today as the largest family-owned and family-operated distillery in America.
“Max Shapira is one of the most legendary stewards of our craft, and his creativity, passion and commitment to quality are second to none,” said Kentucky Distillers’ Association President Eric Gregory. “It’s safe to say that Kentucky Bourbon would not be enjoying its current success without the exemplary leadership of Max Shapira.”
As the only son of Ed – one of the five founding brothers of Heaven Hill – Shapira was exposed to all elements of the Bourbon business but decided to venture out on his own when afforded the chance. He left Kentucky and graduated undergrad at Washington and Lee University, attained his MBA from Harvard Business School, and experienced many years of success working in corporate finance in New York City. It wasn’t until 1970 that he returned to the family business as director of corporate planning and began paving his own path at the company.
Shapira spent the first decade at Heaven Hill working side by side with his father before merging his Bourbon and finance knowledge to begin acquiring companies and expanding market share. In 1986, he spearheaded the development of one of our most popular expressions – Elijah Craig Small Batch, and from the 1980s to 1995, Heaven Hill’s total volume tripled from two million to six million cases.
We filled a million barrels of whiskey, acquired more than 10 brands, and introduced three premium releases during the period. Heaven Hill was expanding while the industry was shrinking. Shapira climbed the ladder to vice president, and in 1996, when the last surviving member of the founding brothers, George, passed away, he was named president of the company.
Before he could sit down, he’d be faced with his first true test as president. A raging fire blazed a path through our Bardstown campus in November of 1996. Aided by 75-mph wind gusts, flames as high as 350 feet ignited seven of our 42 warehouses and destroyed 90,000 barrels of whiskey – 2% of the world’s supply at the time. Fortunately, no casualties or injuries occurred, but Shapira had to mend $30 million in lost whiskey and damaged facilities.
Through savvy maneuvering, he made sure that not a single employee lost their job or pay, and within three years, the company purchased the Bernheim facility, which had the capacity to replace all lost production. Shapira’s smart recovery plan after the fire propelled us to where we are today, but according to him, his most important task as president was yet to come.
In 2001, his daughter, Kate Shapira Latts, and her husband, Allan Latts, joined the company as director of marketing strategy and chief operating officer, respectively. In 2006, his son, Andy, joined the company as director of corporate analysis. In addition to their day-to-day duties, they’re all deeply involved in setting long-term growth strategy.
Since their joining the company, we’ve filled an additional 4 million barrels of whiskey, acquired or introduced several new product lines, have expanded both in market share and physical presence, and show no signs of slowing down.
If we toast to any of Max Shapira’s accomplishments at Heaven Hill, it’s the fact that he’s been committed to setting us up for another 83 years of continued success.
When asked about it, Shapira says, “I’m sincere when I say that having the next generation of my family squarely positioned to be running this company in the future is the most significant thing I’ve done.”