Marsha Milam | Crain's Austin

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Marsha Milam


Ben Milam Whiskey is an award-winning, limited production, high-quality whiskey with a distillery located in Blanco, Texas. Milam is also owner of Marsha Milam Music and a co-founder of the Austin Film Festival.

The Mistake:

Fundamentally, I have to say there are really no mistakes. What you think so many times is a mistake ends up putting you in the right direction. You’re never going to know it all and I think what you discover along your path is a part of what makes you better as a businessperson. If you’re open, those things that come across your path will make you better.

Having said that, years ago, a friend and I produced a really big two-day standing room only sold out rhythm and blues show. It was 100 percent volunteer.

Everybody volunteered. Nobody took a dime. I got an outdoor company to give me a billboard to use for the show.

I also got two friends of mine who were artists to do a graffiti style billboard for this. But the artists spelled the star’s last name wrong. It was a big deal. When the star’s manager saw it, he called me up and let me have it.

“Everybody’s going to be in town from LA,” he said. “They’re going to see the name spelled wrong.”

My first response was, “Hey, wait a minute - we’re all volunteers, nobody’s getting paid for this. Everybody did this on their free time.”

What you discover along your path is a part of what makes you better as a businessperson.

The Lesson:

I realized very quickly that whether you’re getting paid or not – if you say you’re going to do something, you have to do right. So I told him, “You’re absolutely right. I’m so sorry. I will get that fixed.”

So we had to sneak out there on ladders late at night and climb up on that thing and get that name spelled right.

I learned that if I say I‘m going to do something, it doesn’t matter if I’m getting paid or not, it needs to be done right. If you make a commitment, you honor it. There are no excuses.

We got it done before the show, and nobody he was worried about ever saw the misspelled name. We put on a heck of an event and raised a ton of money.

These days, I’m on the boards of a few organizations and I take those roles as seriously as I do the things I am getting paid for. Whatever you’re doing, you have to do it right.


Follow Ben Milam Whiskey on Twitter at @benmilamwhiskey.

Pictured: Marsha Milam | Photo courtesy of Ben Milam Whiskey.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's Austin.