Today\u2019s aspiring wine executives are among the best educated in history. Complicated strings of fancy letters trail off their business cards, signifying advanced degrees in engineering, business administration and viticulture. They intern in sunny winemaking climes and extern in\u00a0 swanky hotels.\r\nNot so with Harvey R. Chaplin, chairman and chief executive officer of Southern Wine & Spirits of America, who earned his education the\u00a0 hard way. Indeed, Chaplin quips that his \u201ccollege education\u201d was earned at Schenley Industries, at the time a leading distilled spirits marketer as well as the American importer of Dewar\u2019s White Label Scotch. He started in the mailroom straight out of high school and worked his way up to become assistant director of marketing. This was followed by his work as a distributor in upstate New York, which Chaplin jokingly refers to as his \u201cgraduate school.\u201d\r\nIn 1968, he joined Southern Wine & Spirits of America. Before he became its chairman and CEO in 1994, Mr. Chaplin served in numerous senior executive roles, running day-to-day operations of the company from 1968 to 1993.\r\n\r\nChaplin recalls that his very first critical challenge at Southern Wine & Spirits, then \u201ca struggling young distribution house,\u201d was to \u201cstraighten out\u201d the company\u2019s newly acquired Southern California distributorship. \u201cThe most important thing I did was to change the corporate business philosophy there,\u201d he says. \u201cIt was not exactly profitable when I arrived, and it had to be fixed from the bottom up.\u201d He spent two months reorganizing it, bringing in new personnel and focusing on improving relationships with suppliers. \u201cAnd once we straightened out Southern California, we were able to expand to the north, years later.\u201d In the years that followed, Chaplin expanded the business into 29 markets, growing Southern into the largest distributor in America.\r\nToday, Chaplin is considered an industry icon for developing the distributor network that has helped make America a wine drinking nation.\r\nHead of the \u201chow-come\u201d department\r\n\u201cThe incredible success that he\u2019s built really hasn\u2019t changed him as a person,\u201d explains his son, Wayne E. Chaplin, president and chief operating officer. \u201cIt\u2019s about people, family, integrity. Sometimes success changes people. But he\u2019s the kind of person that remembers where he started, how he started, and that really guides him and helps him.\u201d\r\n\r\nHarvey, his partner Mel Dick, senior vice president of Southern and president of its wine division, and his team developed innovative, powerful techniques to sell wine where it had never been sold before. His sales force pounded the pavement, knocked on doors and brought the message of the importance of wine sales to tens of thousands of retailers and restaurateurs. He encouraged them to offer, stock and display wine in their establishments before it was fashionable. Chaplin and Dick devel- the strong distributor model that many other companies adopted. Without Chaplin, Dick and a robust network of distributors, the proliferation of wine knowledge and wine consumption would not have taken place in this country.\r\n\r\nChaplin is particularly known for his laser-like focus on supplier concerns. \u201cMy philosophy has been one of cooperation between the two tiers of our industry because I believe we both need each other for our i n d u s t r y \u2019s progress,\u201d he says.\r\n\r\nUnlike many octogenarian executives happy with emeritus status, Chaplin continues a hands-on role with the business. \u201cHe\u2019s always been\u00a0 driven,\u201d recalls Dick \u201cand he\u2019s as driven today. If we go into a meeting in the morning, he\u2019s there all day, listening and participating. He\u2019s not an 8 0 - y e a r-old who wanders in every three days, makes a couple of phone calls and then leaves. He\u2019s truly unique.\u201d\r\n\r\nChaplin also jokes that he\u2019s head of the \u201cHow-Come Department.\u201d Say what? \u201cHe\u2019s the one asking the questions,\u201d Dick explains. \u201cHow come we didn\u2019t do this? How come we didn\u2019t do that? How come this happened? It\u2019s a pretty good department to be in.\u201d\r\nStill stories to be told\r\nWhen asked about his legacy, Chaplin modestly points to his son Wayne, noting his son\u2019s business and civic accomplishments: \u201cWayne is a model\u00a0 modern executive\u2014a lawyer, an accounting major and technology savvy; and I am just the opposite. He is the successor; he is it.\u201d\r\nMeanwhile, Chaplin\u2019s son Wayne has a very different interpretation. \u201cI don \u2019t think his legacy is over,\u201d he muses. \u201cThere are still a lot of stories to be told.\u201d He credits Chaplin\u2019s success to the fact that he started very much at the \u201centry level in this industry,\u201d and never forgot his roots or his vision. \u201cIt\u2019s a reminder to everybody in the industry that with hard work, focus and commitment, the sky is the limit.\u201d\r\nWayne Chaplin describes business lessons handed down from his father: \u201cFirst and foremost, the most important thing in business is the\u00a0 people who run the company. People make the difference in making an organization what it is and what it can be.\r\n\u201cSecond, in business your word is more valuable than anything else you have, and the expression of your word is your bond that is true. Fin all y, never forget your roots. You should never forget where you began, so that you treat people and their problems as if they are yourown.\u201d\r\nThese are lessons that every university should teach. For his unparalleled role in generating interest, distribution and sales, and for his contribution to the continued healthy growth of this industry, Wine Enthusiast is proud to raise a glass to Harvey Chaplin as the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for 2009.\r\n\r\nChaplin will be honored, along with all other Wine Star award recipients at\u00a0Wine Enthusiast's 10th annual Wine Star Awards ceremony, on January 25 in NYC.\u00a0Read more information\u00a0about the 2009 Wine Star awards ceremony.