About Our President
Bob Richards was born in Lexington, Kentucky, the only child of Clarence and Frances Richards.
After graduating from the University of Kentucky with a bachelor of science in business administration, Bob enlisted in the Army. He served for 12 years of active and inactive duty at various bases and theaters of operation as an infantry platoon leader while in the Third Infantry Division and was promoted to Company Commander, Regimental Operations and Training Officer (S-3). He received the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and two Bronze Stars. At his honorable discharge and retirement from the Reserves he held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
While in the Army, Bob married his wife, Lucille. Later, while on deployment, Bob learned of the birth of his daughter, who he met for the first time at the end of his deployment, when she was six weeks old.
Bob’s life after active military service was filled with adventure, accomplishments and variety. Bob and his family settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. In those early days Bob explored several careers: restaurateur; sales manager for Westmoreland Sterling Silver (an Alcoa company); co-owner and publicity/promotion director of a stock car race track, and builder of two homes, all while working for the Joseph E. Seagram Company, which proved to be career-defining.
Bob began his career at Seagram's largest plant in Lawrenceburg, Indiana as a bottling line leader. He learned all aspects of whiskey production and ultimately became the supervisor of warehousing, utilities, blending, planning, and his major love… quality… where he helped formulate 7 Crown, Seagram’s Gin, Four Roses, Capt. Morgan and a host of other brands.
Bob’s initiative and hard work gained the notice of senior management and earned him an invitation to Seagram’s seven man management development program. Designed to groom future presidents for the seven Seagram's companies, this was an 18-month on-the-job training program in market research, advertising, budget, finance and sales. Bob was the only person chosen from the production facilities. The program was located in New York, New York, so Bob and his family resettled in Harrison, New York.
Upon completion of his executive training, Bob was transferred to Seagram's Distillers in Chicago. Bob and his family moved to Glenview and Bob became the assistant sales promotion manager for the Central (Midwest) Division, consisting of 117 distributors in an 11 state area. During his time with Seagram's Distillers Bob was promoted several times, serving as a division field assistant, the brand manager for 7 Crown, V.O. and Seagram’s Gin, and finally assistant Central Division manager. He was also responsible for the successful introduction of Crown Royal to the Central Division area.
Bob was eventually promoted to Four Roses/Kessler, another Seagram's company, as Central Division manager and vice president.
During this time John Heilmann, former Seagram's president, now chairman of Somerset Importers/Guiness (Johnnie Walker, Tanqueray Gin, and Weller and Fitzgerald bourbons) invited Bob to join him at Somerset. Full of anticipation, Bob left a highly successful career with Segram's for challenging work as vice president and division manager for the Central (Midwest) Division.
Bob was talented in marketing, management and strategic planning with a reputation as a trainer of people. This ability to recognize and develop the natural talents of his staff resulted in the formation of an energetic, aggressive and highly responsive Central Division sales team.
With his team in place, Bob proceeded to make the Central Division the most respected and successful division in the company. Under his leadership, the creativity and teamwork of the Central Division made great national programs even better, adapting them to the tastes and needs of the market with great success.
Bob also proved to be an innovator. He is personally responsible for the development of the Pimm’s Chukker. Looking for a way to revitalize Pimm’s No. 1 Cup in the U.S. market, Bob developed a drink especially for the Oak Brook Polo Club, which was trying to increase interest in and attendance at their games. Thanks to a chance encounter with one of the prominent members, Bob persuaded them to feature the drink he had developed…the Pimm’s Chukker. (For those unfamiliar with polo, a chukker is a period of play, like an inning in baseball.) Forty-two Pimm’s Chukkers were sold that first Sunday. With the addition of the eye-catching “Pimm’s Pavilion”, where Pimm’s Chukkers were sold in distinctive pink souvenir cups featuring polo artwork and the Chukker recipe, the Pimm’s Chukker was an overnight sensation. It was the drink of Oak Brook Polo and everyone wanted one of the pink souvenir cups. By the end of the season an average of 1,200 Chukkers were sold every Sunday and and the Pimm’s Chukker was named “the official drink of Oak Brook Polo” by owner Jorie Butler. A second Pavilion was later built to meet demand and the Pimm’s program was established in 13 polo clubs across America. The revitalization of Pimm’s No. 1 Cup in the U.S. was a fact!
Bob’s marketing creativity also developed a successful introduction of Wyborowa Vodka. Though widely enjoyed and highly respected in its native Poland it was largely unknown in the U.S. Wyborowa was being introduced in the U.S. at the height of the Solidarity movement that ultimately led to the fall of Communism in Poland. Bob knew that more people of Polish ancestry lived in Chicago and the Midwest than anywhere in the world outside of Warsaw and that support for Solidarity ran strong in his markets. The question: how to reach that market, a natural fit with Wyborowa?
Several years earlier Bob’s secretary, Jackie Ciombor (now Richway’s Assistant to the President) had worked for an American company in Communist Poland. To give the team insight into Polish culture, she brought to the office her photo album and some Polish coins, including a one-groszy piece. At that time it took 100 groszy to make a zloty, the standard unit of Polish currency, and 10,000 groszy to make a dollar! Virtually without value, it was not widely used…a collector’s piece. And it was in that tiny, silvery coin that Bob saw the opportunity to reach his market.
Tastings were scheduled. A card was produced promising a portion of each bottle’s purchase price would be donated to the Solidarity cause. Bob purchased 100,000 ($100 worth) of one groszyy coins, imported from Poland. The coins were affixed to the cards, and each Wyborowa taster received one. The program was hugely successful. Who wouldn’t want to support the fall of Communism? The Central Division sold more Wyborowa than the rest of the company combined. This local program was ultimately assumed by the national office and produced as a bottle-necker on every bottle.
Bob has also lent his talents to philanthropy. He was elected chairman of the Sky Ranch for Boys Advisory Committee for five consecutive years. During those year he innovated many successful fund-raising activities.
As was typical in those days, companies were bought, sold, or taken over with alarming frequency. In one of those changes Bob became vice president of the newly formed Group 1 Essex Spirits Company. A little later, under Guiness/Renfield, he was named president and restarted Renfield with Schenley’s 189 commodity brands.
Satisfying a long-time desire, Bob formed his own company. Founded in 1988 in Oak Brook, Illinois, Richway Spirits has grown under his leadership and guidance to a very successful Midwestern five-brand company with over $5 million in sales.
With the help of Badger Liquor's Gary Sadoff, it began with Guild Brandy. Then, using the quality skills learned at Seagrams, Bob developed California Five Star Brandy. Introduced only in Wisconsin in 1989, it sold 25,000 cases in the first year! San Juan Silver and Gold rums were developed and introduced in 1990. San Juan Silver is now Richway’s largest-selling brand. Bob is especially proud of San Juan Spiced Rum, developed and introduced in 1994. San Juan Spiced Rum was taste-tested and received the prestigious rating of “Recommended and Best Buy” among all spiced rums from the Chicago Testing Institute during the same year Grey Goose Vodka received that honor among all vodkas.
Below is the cover piece from Richway’s 25th year newsletter, which shows the rapid growth of Richway’s quality brands.
RICHWAY CELEBRATES ITS 25TH YEAR
SERVING OVER 575,000,000 GREAT-TASTING DRINKS,
THAT'S 1.8 MILLION CASES IN ONLY FIVE STATES!
During his career in the liquor industry Bob has earned great respect and a sterling reputation. He has been evaluated “outstanding” by the company presidents at every company he has worked. He achieved over 100% of his profit objectives and received maximum bonuses while operating within budget every year while in corporate management.
He is proud of his reputation as a teacher and developer of people. Those working with him have frequently been promoted to regional and national management positions. He has shared his expertise with his peers and has conducted seminars for senior management annually for over forty years, with distributors eager to attend. Seminars have focused on subjects of particular interest to senior management including profitability, increasing distribution, and excellence.
And in particular Bob values the respect he has earned from virtually every distributor sales force for offering consistent and innovative programming that works and helps them grow their business while having fun.
On a personal note, Bob is still happily married to his wife, Lucille, who is also Richway’s secretary/treasurer. His daughter, a paralegal, and granddaughter, an art therapist working with children, serve on Richway’s board of directors. He enjoys spending time in both Glenview and Florida, but even with all the challenges and hard work involved, Richway Spirits is one of his favorite places to be.