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UMass Trustee Serves Up Spirited Business Advice

Horizon Beverage President Robert Epstein Shares Insights with Global Marketing Students

Students listen to Robert Epstein's guest lecture Photo by Ed Brennen
Global marketing students listen to UMass Trustee Robert Epstein discuss the evolution of the alcoholic beverage industry.

By Ed Brennen

Fifty business students walk into a lecture hall. A guest speaker pulls out three bottles of bourbon and sets them up on a table at the front of the room – one labeled at $11.99, another at $29.99 and the third at $2,100.

“Familiar?” the guest speaker asks the students, who chuckle in response.

It may sound like the setup to an old bar joke, but it was actually just a visual aid used by Robert Epstein, president and CEO of Horizon Beverage Group, to make a point about the power of aspirational marketing – the technique of convincing consumers they want something better – in the alcohol industry.

Epstein, a member of the UMass Board of Trustees, visited campus recently to speak about the evolution of the alcoholic beverage industry and its strategic implications to students in Assoc. Prof. Ying Huang’s global marketing course about the evolution of the alcoholic beverage industry and its strategic implications. Epstein’s visit was part of the Manning School of Business’ Executive-in-Residence speaker series.

“I don’t do this for a living, but when (Chancellor Jacquie Moloney) invited me, I couldn’t say no,” said Epstein, whose family-owned business is the largest distributor of wine and spirits in New England, doing $1 billion in annual sales and employing 1,000 people across five states.

Robert Epstein points to bottles of bourbon during his talk Photo by Ed Brennen
Horizon Beverage President and CEO Robert Epstein makes a point about aspirational marketing during his presentation to Manning School of Business students at the Saab ETIC Perry Atrium.

Moloney thanked Epstein, a UMass Amherst alumnus, for his generous and steadfast support of state scholarship funding as she introduced him to students.

“Trustee Epstein is a very strong advocate for you as students and for your future,” Moloney said. “He is very dedicated and speaks passionately about the need for support of higher education in Massachusetts, and especially for our beloved UMass schools.”

Epstein began with a history lesson about his family’s company, which was founded as Brockton Wholesale Beverage by his grandfather in 1933 – on the day Prohibition was repealed.

He also shared his keys to success (pay your bills, avoid serious debt and work harder and smarter than your competition); examined advertising trends and the future of consumer insights; discussed the importance of corporate social responsibility; and addressed the business implications of legalized marijuana in the state (it hasn’t yet been a significant threat to alcohol sales, he said).

Chancellor Jacquie Moloney listens to Robert Epstein talk Photo by Ed Brennen
Chancellor Jacquie Moloney looks on as Robert Epstein makes a point to business students.

“It was a very insightful talk,” said David Morton, a junior business administration major who works as the brand manager for his family’s printing business in Lawrence. “I was able to talk to him afterward about the printing industry and how it’s changing, and what a business can do to stand out when facing disruption.”

Sophomore business administration major Victor Souza, who helped coordinate the event as a Student Alumni Ambassador, appreciated how Epstein wove personal stories into his marketing advice.

“He did an amazing job articulating points about his company,” Souza said. “His stories made it easier to relate to the industry and a family-run business.”

Epstein had been to UMass Lowell before for trustees’ meetings, but this was the first time he’d had the opportunity to walk around campus and talk with students.

“It’s great what they’ve done here,” he said as he walked with Moloney through the lobby of the Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center. “I walked through some of the labs here. It’s unbelievable.”