Episode 36 - Inclusion and Opportunity with Melvin Keebler


The popular saying “a rising tide lifts all boats” is perfectly suited for the distilled spirits industry — when one of us does well, either as an individual or as a company, we do what we can to help others. On this episode of Around the Barrel, we talk with Melvin Keebler, Vice President and Assistant General Manager at the Jack Daniel Distillery, about the Nearest & Jack Advancement Initiative, the latest way Jack Daniel’s is helping those with less opportunity. Through collaboration with Uncle Nearest Inc., the initiative offers education, training and support for minorities looking to succeed in the distilled spirits industry. Melvin takes us behind-the-scenes of this impactful program and discusses Jack Daniel’s diversity and inclusion efforts while shining a light on the path of progress ahead.


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Jack Daniel wasn’t born a whiskey maker. He developed his famous recipe and his whiskey-making talent with the guidance and mentorship of Nathan “Nearest” Green. He, and we, never forgot it

The spirits business is a difficult one to break into, and it’s even harder to succeed. It is capital-intensive, and since distilled spirits need to mature, it is typically several years before a business can even start trying to get off the ground. Distilling requires equipment, technology, raw materials, overhead, marketing, sales, distribution and more.

Because of these challenges, it is one of the few industries where when one business succeeds, it lends a hand to lift others up. When small craft distilleries struggled to find barrels during a barrel shortage, Jack Daniel’s gave them some of our own. When the Tennessee Whiskey Trail needed a boost to gain traction, we helped to promote it. And when recent conversations about the lack of opportunities for minorities shined a light on the absence of diversity in our industry, we stepped up to create those opportunities, developing the Nearest & Jack Advancement Initiative.

Rather than simply offer positions to minorities, the initiative, created through a partnership between Jack Daniel’s and Uncle Nearest Inc., was designed to equip these men and women with the education, leadership skills and financial support to achieve their goals. The program does this through three pillars:

1. The Nearest Green School of Distillation will attract and prepare young minorities for careers in the industry.

2. The Leadership Acceleration Program will accelerate the growth of Black men and women already in the industry to prepare them for leadership roles.

3. The Business Incubator Program targets minority entrepreneurs who want to start their own businesses in the industry.

To uncover the genesis of this initiative and what it has already accomplished, host Lucas Hendrickson spoke with Melvin Keebler, Vice President, Assistant General Manager of the Jack Daniel Distillery. Melvin, who is an active participant in the initiative, has worked for Jack Daniel’s for 18 years, where he oversees nine different departments with 300 employees. He is a member of the Brown-Forman Global


Production Diversity & Inclusion Committee, as well as Brown-Forman Employee Resource Groups, BUILD and BRAVE, which supports Black and veteran employees, respectively.

As a veteran of the company, a minority and one of the individuals responsible for ensuring that Jack Daniel’s is fulfilling its Diversity and Inclusion goals, Melvin has valuable insight into the potential impact of this new initiative, the importance of creating a sustainable program and how this type of collaboration is just the nature of what we do.

Join us Around the Barrel to learn more about this exciting initiative, one we like to think would make its namesakes proud.