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Wine Enthusiast’s 2016 Wine Star Award Winner for Person of the Year: Wayne E. Chaplin

It isn’t always easy to grow up in the shadow of a parent who has built a successful business.

Whether it’s a question of the parent knowing how (or not) to let go, sibling rivalries or financial issues, it’s never simple knowing to judge when a son or daughter is ready to take over the reins of a modern, complex enterprise.

But if there’s an individual who’s succeeded within a multigenerational family business and a highly competitive sector, it’s Wayne E. Chaplin, chief executive officer of Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, North America’s largest wine and spirits distributor.

Under Chaplin’s leadership, Southern Glazer’s has operations in 44 states, the District of Columbia, Canada and the Caribbean. The company has more than 20,000 employees and sells more 150 million cases of wine and spirits per year.

Associates marvel of the devotion that the low-key Chaplin has to his family, friends and the charitable groups he supports.

Chaplin credits his wife, Arlene, for her loyal support and wisdom. The couple just celebrated their 30th anniversary. He also gives credit to their children.

A Softer Side

When asked about the most important quality that people may not know about him, Chaplin says, “From the very beginning, our family and my mentors were always, always all about giving back. For me, that having a soft center comes from having a warm heart.”

He’s extremely proud of his family’s charitable giving. Their commitment to promoting responsible consumption and aiding efforts to combat underage drinking has spread throughout the company over the years.

“We encourage our people to be involved at the local level, not just with the big charities,” he says.

For Chaplin, it’s not only about financial support for charities. He also puts in time and hard work. Chaplin is chairman of the board of trustees of Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach.

“In working closely with Wayne, he is literally the busiest person I know,” says Steven D. Sonenreich, president and CEO of the hospital. “However, with his unrelenting commitment to business, he prioritizes his family, friends and community.”

Chaplin’s support of Florida International University in Miami has helped make the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management one of world’s best, according to Mark Rosenberg, the university’s president.

“Wayne Chaplin is a passionate supporter of the next generation of hospitality professionals, and works for a more inclusive, global and stronger industry,” he says.

Wayne and Southern Glazer’s are original sponsoring organizers of the Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Now in its 16th year, the annual event has raised more than $24 million, much of it for FIU student scholarships.

Southern Glazer’s also sponsors the Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival, which has raised more than $9.5 million for Food Bank for New York City and No Kid Hungry.

“What I admire most about Wayne is his common-sense approach to business,” says Pete Carr, regional president of Bacardi North America. “He truly understands how the entire business operates, as he is engaged front and center in every area.”

John Sellar, the president of importer Frederick Wildman & Sons, says, “Wayne’s dedication to the development of the wine and spirits business across the U.S. has and continues to be unparalleled. With all that he does, he still manages to balance this business dedication with his personal and philanthropic endeavors with the same vigor.”

So what’s the secret to Chaplin and his remarkable journey? What’s behind his emergence as a visionary industry leader who’s respected and known across six continents for his business acumen and generous nature?

The Power of Empowerment

Harvey R. Chaplin, Wayne’s father, has part of the answer: strong, decisive, principled, enlightened and compassionate parenting.

“Wayne wanted to come to Southern straight out of high school, out of college, out of law school,” says Harvey, who co-founded Southern Wine & Spirits of America in 1968 and serves today as chairman of the company. “And I kept saying to him, ‘You have nothing to offer. Nothing to offer.’ I said, ‘You’re going to be the owner’s son. What the hell are you going to offer?’ ”

So after he graduated from University of Miami School of Law, Wayne joined a leading Miami law firm. Wayne worked there until Harvey finally said one day, “Are you coming or not?”

Only then, armed with some real-world legal and business experience, did Wayne join Southern in 1984.

He started at the bottom. In the firm’s Miami warehouse, he learned the basics. Wayne became versed in everything from operations and delivery to sales and marketing to retailers and restaurateurs.

In 1987, he was promoted to vice president in charge of operations. By 1989, he rose to first vice president and chief operating officer. In 1994, he was appointed the company’s president. In July, he was named CEO of Southern Glazer’s.

“Once Wayne came in, he applied a strategy to expand to multiple states,” says Mel Dick, senior vice president and president of Southern Glazer’s wine division. “And thank goodness that he had the ability, the brilliance, and—this is the important thing—empowerment from his father and the other partners.”

Game-changing National Vision

“By the late 1980s, as we saw what was happening in our industry as well as many other industries, that consolidation was rapidly unfolding, we thought we could add value to our customers and our suppliers if we could scale up to a national basis,” says Chaplin.

In the business world, often loaded with jargon and cliché, “vision” is one of its most overused terms. Yet, if one quality separates Wayne’s career from so many others in the wine and spirits industry, it was his early appreciation of the potential of a distributor if it could expand nationwide.

As the leading multistate distributor, Chaplin capitalized on this trend before many other competitors. It was his vision that transformed the company.

“It was Wayne’s vision to build a national footprint for the company and to demonstrate to suppliers how this would make sense for their businesses,” says his father. “His drive and determination is what made Southern’s combination with Glazer’s a reality, and it’s truly a game changer for the industry.”

“Wayne’s strong leadership skills, combined with his vision for collaborative and mutually beneficial partnerships, have always impressed me,” says Paul Duffy, president and CEO of Pernod Ricard North America. “His ability to clearly communicate a vision—and then achieve it—has helped him become an industry leader.”

For these professional, charitable and personal activities and achievements, and the respect, friendship and admiration of his peers, associates and employees, Wayne E. Chaplin is Wine Enthusiast’s 2016 Person of the Year.

Explore the 2016 Wine Star Award Nominees…

Person of the Year  |  European Winery  |  American Winery

New World Winery | Wine Region  |  Innovator/Executive

WinemakerSpirit BrandBrewery | Retailer

Importer | Sommelier/Wine Director  |  Mixologist/Brand Ambassador

Lifetime Achievement (to be announced)

American Wine Legend (to be announced)