MN Businessman Edward Phillips Dies at 66

Edward Phillips, who is known by many for revolutionizing the vodka industry, was also a philanthropist who served as chairman of the board of Children's Hospitals and Clinics and helped run two family foundations.

Prominent local businessman and philanthropist Edward Jay Phillips, known to his friends as Eddie, died on Friday.

A report by the Star Tribune, which includes comments from Edward's son Dean Phillips, states that Edward died of multiple myeloma at his home in Minneapolis.

Spokespeople for Phillips Distilling Company, which spun off from Edward Phillips' Millennium Import Company and is now led by Dean Phillips, were unavailable for comment on Monday.

Phillips, who was 66 years old, was born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and graduated from Stanford University in 1967-later earning advanced degrees from the University of Minnesota.

He is known by many for revolutionizing the vodka industry by licensing a couple of Polish brands and creating a new spirits category: luxury vodka. The introduction forever changed not only the specific spirit, but bar culture itself-as cosmopolitans and various “-tini” drinks began using high-end vodka.

Phillips started out in his grandfather's business, Ed Phillips & Sons, which was sold in 1971 to Alco Standard. Phillips remained with Alco and the company later named him CEO of its beverage, gift, and glassware business.

In the late 1980s, Phillips acquired Phillips Beverage from Alco and sold all but its distilling and marketing operations.

In 1995, Phillips formed Millennium Import Company. He and his business partners traveled to Poland, and their company became the sole U.S. licensee of two brands that it later positioned as luxury brands in the United States: Belvedere and Chopin. By 2004, Belvedere alone had reportedly reached $1 billion in sales since its U.S. introduction.

Phillips Beverage later spun off its distilling business to other members of the family to raise enough capital to purchase the Belvedere brand from the Polish government, and Millennium partner Tadeusz Dorda eventually bought Chopin.

In 2005, Millennium sold Belvedere to French luxury goods firm Louis Vuitton Mo‘t Hennessy, marking the end of Phillips Beverage Company.

But it didn't represent the end of Phillips' career. In 2008, he joined his Millennium partner and purchased a majority stake in Dallas-based Talenti, a maker of high-end gelato and sorbetti.

Phillips' mother is known for her work as a newspaper advice columnist under the byline Abigail Van Buren-known as “Dear Abby.”

In addition to his business accomplishments, Phillips is known as a philanthropist: He served as chairman of the board of Children's Hospitals and Clinics in Minneapolis, helped run two family foundations, and served as a director for the Apollo Theater in Manhattan's Harlem. He was also an advisor to the Worldwide Orphans Foundation.

In 2009, Phillips was inducted into Twin Cities Business' Minnesota Business Hall of Fame.