Harvey R. Chaplin, Chairman of Southern Wine & Spirits of America, Inc. (Southern), was born in 1929 in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York. He attended grade school at P.S. 156, then junior high school at P.S. 252. By 1946, the year he graduated from Brooklyn's Boys High School, he had already begun his career in the wine and spirits industry, having landed a part-time position in the mailroom at Schenley Industries in Manhattan. At that time, Schenley was a leading distilled spirits marketer as well as the American importer of Dewar's White Label Scotch.
Chaplin quips that his "college education" was earned at Schenley Industries, as he worked his way up over 16 years from the mailroom to become assistant director of sales. Chaplin says his "graduate school" degree came from his work as a distributor in upstate New York from 1961 to 1968, where he ran wholesale operations in Buffalo, Rochester, and Albany. In 1969, Chaplin joined Southern Wine & Spirits of America, along with other founding executives. Prior to becoming its Chairman and CEO in 1994, Chaplin served in numerous senior executive roles running day-to-day operations of the company from 1969 to 1993.
Chaplin recalls that his very first critical challenge at Southern was to "straighten out" the company's newly acquired Southern California distributorship. He remarks, "The most important thing I did was to change the corporate business philosophy there. It was not exactly profitable when I arrived, and it had to be fixed from the bottom up. I spent two months reorganizing it; we brought in brand new people, and we focused on improving our relationships with suppliers and customers alike. And once we straightened out Southern California, we were able to expand to the north thereafter."
Chaplin is known for his laser-like focus on supplier concerns. He says, "My philosophy has been one of close cooperation among the supplier, wholesaler and retailer tiers of our industry—because I believe we all need each other for our industry's progress."
He shares credit for the success Southern has achieved in the intervening decades. Chaplin believes Southern’s founders played a critical role in the company's early success. Chaplin is generous in his praise of Southern’s early leaders—Walter Jahn, Jay Weiss, Elliot Dinnerstein, Herbert Joseph and Mel Dick, who is the company’s current Senior Vice President and President of the Wine Division. "Our company’s early leaders are some of the most notable wine and spirits executives the U.S. has ever known, and their strength is in the way they engage, manage and lead people," Chaplin added.
Chaplin’s success and influence as a business leader has been recognized across the industry:
- 2001: Named Industry Man of the Year by MarketWatch magazine
- 2003: Honored as Man of the Year by the Weizmann Institute of Science
- 2004: Named South Florida Legend by South Florida CEO magazine
- 2005: Honored by the Sky Ranch Foundation and inducted into its Hall of Fame, Class of 2005
A distinguished leader in the beverage industry, Chaplin is also known as a community advocate and philanthropist. His charitable support extends from local to international organizations and includes the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami, the Nor-Isle Optimist Club, and Temple Beth Shalom. The Chaplin Family was instrumental in the construction of the Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center at the Florida International University’s (FIU) Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management—the first beverage education center of its kind in the nation. FIU is also home to an endowment of the First Eminent Scholar Chair in Beverage Management Studies in the U.S. and the chair is named in honor of Harvey Chaplin.
Chaplin is the recipient of many community awards and honors, including the Mt. Sinai Medical Center honor he and his wife Roberta shared in March 2005 at the 50th Anniversary celebration of the hospital with the naming of the Harvey R. Chaplin Family Stroke and Chest Pain Center. The Holtz Children’s Hospital, in conjunction with the Jackson Memorial Foundation, named the Chaplin Family Pediatric Emergency Room and the Roberta Orlen Chaplin Digital Breast Imaging Center at Jackson. Chaplin and his wife were honored at the 2009 Golden Angels Gala with the designation of the Jackson Memorial Foundations Humanitarian Chairman. They have also been recognized by Project Newborn with the ‘Lola’ award for their 34 years of support, honored by the Diabetes Research Foundation as Grand Humanitarians at the 36th Annual Love and Hope Ball, and serve as lifetime benefactors of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of South Florida.
Harvey Chaplin is also immensely proud of his son Wayne Chaplin and notes his business and civic accomplishments, "Wayne is a quintessential modern President and Chief Executive Officer—a lawyer, business major, and technology savvy. I am just the opposite.” Upon announcing Wayne Chaplin’s acceptance of the additional duties of CEO, Chaplin said, “With his 30 years of experience at Southern, the time is right for Wayne to lead Southern into the future. His contribution to Southern’s overall growth and success during his tenure—along with the support of our senior executive team—has been tremendous.”
The importance of Chaplin's formative experience in California, his almost obsessive focus on pleasing both customers and suppliers, his obvious pride in his son, Wayne, and his relentless personal drive to expand the company's capabilities, size and reach all turn out to be genuine Chaplin character traits. Chaplin sums up his view of Southern’s success as follows, “We are not the best because we are the biggest; we are the biggest because we are the best.”