“My support for Isenberg is a give-back story,” notes Bob Epstein ’67. “It gave me a great business foundation. UMass and Isenberg were inspirational. They have allowed generations of students to go from a ‘can’t-do’ to a ‘can-do’ mentality. Our degrees have given us the ability to stick our heads out of our shells and succeed after graduation.” Bob’s own version of that success is as Chief Executive Officer of Horizon Beverage Group, New England’s largest distributor of alcoholic beverages.
Walking the give-back talk, the long-time UMass Amherst trustee is a key donor to Isenberg’s Business Innovation Hub. He was co-chair of the largest fundraising campaign in UMass Amherst history, and has visited the campus periodically as a guest lecturer in entrepreneurship. And, at the height of the Great Recession, he launched the Reason to Give Scholarship “for kids who lost their ability to pay for a UMass education.”
As a student at Isenberg, Bob gravitated toward marketing and entrepreneurship. A key influence was Jack Wolf, a marketing professor and former associate dean, who brought business to life by immersing Bob and his fellow students in a team-based (and pre-digital) game that called for market analysis, pricing, and evaluation of investments and other costs.
After graduation, Bob went straight into his family’s business, founded by his grandfather the day after the repeal of Prohibition. With business school skills in marketing, accounting, and leadership, Bob helped transform Horizon—formerly Brockton Wholesale Beverages—from a small, regional operation to a force to be reckoned with throughout New England. Moving forward, Horizon will remain in able hands—his family’s next generation. Transitioning a business to new leadership is as important as leadership gets, Bob emphasizes.
In 2012, Bob and his partner and cousin, James Rubenstein, launched Horizon’s technologically sophisticated headquarters in Norton, with its 600,000 square-feet of climate-controlled warehouse space. The facility’s computer-based system tracks the real-time velocity and throughput of inventory, allowing for continuous improvement in performance. State-of-the-art learning technologies in Isenberg’s Business Innovation Hub, Bob observes, will likewise offer a competitive edge to the school’s students, whose DNA includes “a strong work ethic,” “tenacity,” and “refusal to feel self-entitled.”
“Above all, Isenberg and UMass Amherst graduates are winners,” Bob continues. That includes children of his employees—some of whom he has helped with UMass college costs. As for Isenberg students, “they’re on a whole different level, with unbelievable post-graduation placement rates. They are the envy of UMass Amherst and a growing number of other campuses.”