Ole Smoky Announces Transition of President of Wholesale into Strategic Advisory Role

Gatlinburg, Tennessee-based Ole Smoky Distillery announces that Michael Bender, president of wholesale, will be transitioning into a senior advisory role with the company over the coming weeks. In an effort to prioritize his health, Bender has made the personal decision to move into this new role as a strategic advisor to Ole Smoky leadership. Bender’s recommended predecessor, vice president of sales, Matthew “Matt” Keith has been appointed to senior vice president of sales, assuming the responsibilities of Bender. 

“Ole Smoky remains one of the fastest growing spirits companies in the country, and this would not have been possible without the passion and leadership of Michael Bender,” said Robert Hall, CEO of Ole Smoky Distillery. “He has built a strong team of sales professionals and has prepared Matt to assume this leadership role. We are pleased and honored that Michael will be staying with the company as a strategic advisor.” 

Bender has over 32 years of experience in the beverage business encompassing wine, beer, spirits and non-alcoholic products. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in physical geography and German from Humboldt State University in California, Bender began his career with E & J Gallo, where he held several positions of increasing responsibility. After his time at Gallo, Bender worked for Pepsi Bottling Group (PBG) as a Marketing Manager before joining FIJI Water where he served as Vice President of Sales and General Manager. He also held leadership positions with Pabst Brewing Company and AquaHydrate before joining Ole Smoky in 2013 as Vice President of Wholesale. After joining the company, Bender made an immediate impact on sales growth and distribution and was quickly promoted to President of Wholesale as distribution of Ole Smoky brands expanded to all 50 states and 20 countries. Under his leadership, for the seventh consecutive year in a row, Ole Smoky has been recognized as an Impact ‘Hot Brand’ by M. Shanken Communications, and recently, Ole Smoky was named America’s Distillery of the Year by the PR%F Awards. After Ole Smoky’s acquisition of Tanteo Tequila in August of 2023, Bender was additionally responsible for leading the successful integration of the brand into the company’s portfolio. In addition to his prolific beverage career, Bender served in the United States Coast Guard Reserve from 1987 to 1993 and has continued to serve as Reserve Deputy Sheriff in Cocke County, Tennessee since 2015. 

Keith has over 22 years of sales and leadership experience in the beverage industry. Since joining Ole Smoky in 2014, he has served as Division Vice President, East, and was later promoted to Vice President of Sales, leading the national field sales team for all Ole Smoky and Tanteo Tequila products. Prior to joining Ole Smoky, Keith worked with Bender as Divisional Director for the East Coast and Caribbean for FIJI Water and had career experiences at JUSTIN and Landmark Wines. He is an alumnus of Pennsylvania State University where he received a bachelor’s degree in marketing. 

“It is an honor to expand my role at Ole Smoky and to lead the wholesale sales team as we continue our growth momentum,” said Keith. “It has been exciting to be part of Ole Smoky for the past ten years, and I look forward to continuing our growth trajectory.”

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