On November 25, 2022, the world lost a father, grandfather, husband, veteran, mentor, and
friend. Richard Thomas Wolf was a natural leader in the beverage and spirits industry who
touched the lives of countless people across the country and around the world.
Wolf sharpened his leadership teeth at a young age as an officer in the Marine Corps before
beginning his 35-year career in the beverage industry. He became the youngest plant manager to ever take the reins with the Perrier Water Group of America. In 2003, he became the vice president general manager of Sazerac Co – Buffalo Trace at the age of 44.
Shortly after starting at Buffalo Trace, Wolf would walk around to each department, listening to their aspirations to learn how he could bring the organization to the next level. He discovered that distilling and creating award-winning spirits is a combination of art, quality, consistency, and science. During that time, Wolf also discovered that there were no modern inventory systems in place. While protecting the history and quality of the over 200-year-old distillery, Wolf hired me and many others, bringing some fresh blood to a centuries-old industry and kicking off many of our professional careers. For that I will be eternally grateful.
Wolf led Buffalo Trace to unprecedented growth, profitability, and notoriety in half the time they originally forecasted. He brought the right people, processes, and products together through acquisitions, process improvement, and developing people to give them the chance to shine.
In 2009, Wolf left Sazerac to help the burgeoning craft distillery movement by starting Wolf Consulting, LLC. He brokered barrel deals to help distillers find the aged spirits they needed,
crafted successful business models, helped people connect with talented individuals,
coordinated several mergers and acquisitions, and even helped distilleries turn a profit in this
competitive landscape. He mentored his daughter Monica Wolf, myself, and so many other
industry consultants, and we all hope to carry that torch forward in a way that would make him proud. There aren’t many craft distillers who haven’t heard of or been affected positively by Wolf. When he would speak at conferences, he would draw crowds of people hoping to get just a moment of time with him, eager and hungry for some of his market insight. There wasn’t a better feeling in the world than if Richard heard your idea and said it was good. His validation was like a warm hug, assuring you that everything was going to be okay. Even when things were at their worst, Wolf made you feel like everything was going to be fine. You knew that once Wolf was involved in a project, the plan was going to be successful. He wouldn’t let you fail.
Notwithstanding his remarkable career, Wolf was first and foremost a family man. He would call me from the car during his many 10-hour drives down to New Orleans to take care of his mother and father or when driving cross-country to help his college-aged children start new adventures.
Just a few months prior to his passing, Wolf and his youngest son were down in Florida waterskiing and wakeboarding. He understood the importance of work-life-family balance, something we all should try to achieve.
When Wolf spoke, people listened. He thought carefully about the words he delivered. He made people feel both smart and capable. Hearing him speak gave aspiring leaders the confidence to take their business to the next level. He was a role model for us all to emulate and the type of leader we should all strive to be.