The Brown bourbon dynasty

By Laurie Bennett

January 10, 2011 at 8:24am

Rarely does nepotism have the long-term success it has had at Brown-Forman, the company that makes Jack Daniel’s, Southern Comfort and a host of other alcoholic beverages.

In the 14 decades since pharmaceuticals salesman George Garvin Brown founded the company in 1870, an orderly succession of descendants has directed the company.

Last year, three fifth-generation members of the family were named to its board.

Yet the romance of the family business is somewhat misleading. George Garvin Brown didn’t begin with a backyard still and simply build a business organically.

The company, now public, has grown by buying up premium brands as the industry consolidated - including Jack Daniel’s in 1956, Canadian Mist in 1971 and Southern Comfort in 1979.

Not every acquisition has been a success. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that the company is reviewing a sale of its Fetzer wine operations.

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