Entrepreneurs

How Fawn Weaver Built Wildly Successful Whiskey Brand Uncle Nearest to Cement a Legacy

Fawn Weaver had been a public-relations firm founder, a bestselling author, and a hospitality executive before she encountered the story of America’s first Black master distiller, Nearest Green. It was Green who’d taught Jack Daniel how to make and blend whiskey, and who was known to those closest to him as “Uncle Nearest.” Weaver’s goal wasn’t to build an award-winning business with national distribution; instead, it was to restore Green’s legacy.

Over the past four years, she’s done both.

“I didn’t know anything about the whiskey business. I knew nothing about the spirit business, but I did know something about the storytelling business and I knew that it could be a really exciting story to tell,” Weaver, the founder of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, said on Inc.’s What I Know podcast.

In her mind, the story was a book, or a film. The metric of success was legacy-preservation. Not just honoring the story of Nearest Green temporarily, say, with a box office hit, but rather, cementing it.

“The only way we were going to be able to do that is to do the same thing that Johnnie Walker and Jack Daniel and Jim Beam did,” she said. “We’re still talking about their legacies because we’re still seeing their bottles everywhere we go.”

Today, her Uncle Nearest whiskeys are sold in all 50 states and eight countries. When the pandemic hit, and other companies cut down expenses and furloughed employees, Weaver raised $13 million in two weeks and hired 13 additional staffers over the course of the year. Her company built out a $50 million distillery, with a tasting room, gallery, restaurant, concert hall–all on a 313-acre farm where Jack Daniel once lived, and on which Nearest was the master distiller.

Hiring is far from a simple process, though: At Uncle Nearest, managers must find candidates that fit Weaver’s 10 hiring principles. “I will keep a position open for a year, two years before I fill it with the wrong person,” she says. Her leadership style is frank and clear; she’s an unabashed extrovert who speaks her mind. She encourages employees to treat each other with the respect of a family member, and communicate with confidence. 

“If you’re not confident, let me tell you, you will not survive at Uncle Nearest,” she says. “Do not come. Do not knock on the door. Do not send your resume.”

To hear Weaver tell the story of growing the Uncle Nearest brand, preserving a legacy, and leading through what she calls “a culture of confidence,” listen to the full episode in the player below, on Apple podcasts, or wherever you listen to audio.

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