"It's important to celebrate Isenberg's success right where most of our graduates live and work--east of Sturbridge and especially in Greater Boston," notes Isenberg alumnus Robert "Bob" Epstein '67. An event like the second annual Isenberg Business Leadership Awards Dinner on June 18th at the Colonnade in Boston, he says, energizes Isenberg grads by reminding them of their collective accomplishments and influence.
All 270 participants left last year's event with pride in the school and the Isenberg community, observes Epstein, who is CEO/President of Horizon Beverage Group in Norton. "The event underscored the value of our degree and of our work ethic, our tenacity, and our refusal to feel self-entitled" he emphasizes.
Epstein has more than his share of those qualities. As long-time president of his Norton-based four-generation family business, Epstein and his cousin and partner James Rubenstein, have transformed the company-known until 1998 as Brockton Wholesale Beverage--from a small regional operation to New England's largest distributor of alcohol beverages. The company, which distributes wines, spirits, malts, and waters, expanded to Western Massachusetts in 1984; to Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont in 1995; and to Rhode Island in 1998.
Leadership Meets Personal Values
As a business leader, Epstein has created symbiotic long-term relationships with his 800 employees; five New England state houses; producers and suppliers; haulers and their union, the Teamsters; and his 15,000 retail and restaurant customers. In 2012, Epstein and his partner launched Horizon's technologically state-of-the-art headquarters in Norton, which has 600,000 square feet of climate-controlled warehouse space. The facility's computer-based system tracks the real-time velocity/throughput of inventory, allowing for its precise measurement and improved performance.
Epstein's civic and philanthropic involvement focuses on higher education and health care. He is a member of the UMass Presidential Council and the Amherst campus's Foundation Board. He is chairman of the campus's current $300 million capital campaign and a periodic visitor/lecturer on entrepreneurship at UMass and Isenberg. In 2007, with his own substantial gift, he launched the Reason to Give Scholarship to help UMass students whose parents had lost their jobs during the recession. He is on the Kennedy Library Foundation's board and chairman of the foundation's annual Profiles in Courage Dinner.
Isenberg and Family Roots
As a student at Isenberg, Epstein gravitated toward marketing and entrepreneurship. A favorite educator was Jack Wolf, a marketing professor who brought business to life by immersing Epstein and his fellow students in a team-based (pre-digital) game that called for market analysis, pricing, and evaluation of investments and other costs.
After graduation, Epstein went straight into the family business, founded by his grandfather in 1933 the day after the repeal of Prohibition. Since then, family and community have been the glue and energizer of the business through four generations. Moving forward, Horizon will remain in able hands-his family's next generation. Transitioning a business to new leadership--that is as important as leadership gets, he emphasizes.