Victor Harvey is a vodka guy - but only after he finished stints as an athlete, hip-hop artist and sports agent. Harvey, 42, is CEO and Chairman of V. Georgio Spirits Company and the only African American to own a distilled spirits company in the world. South Florida is home, where he has launched his new brand of premium vodka, V-Georgio. You can taste it this week at a pair of Miami.com Halloween week events.
We were able to catch up with Victor as he was getting ready for a little league football game. (Oh yeah, he's also a coach.)
What’s your official title?
I am the CEO and Chairman of V. Georgio Spirits Company.
You’ve had a varied background, spanning from sports to the hip-hop industry. Tell us some of your life’s highlights.
As an adult, the first highlight was even getting accepted into college. I didn’t think that I would ever get the opportunity to go. Playing division basketball at Bowling Green State University [in Ohio] was amazing to me.
Getting the record deal was also pretty amazing. But before that, while in college, I started a chapter called A.C.E. – the Association of Collegiate Entrepreneurs. I found that organization with a guy, who was 25 at the time, named Michael Dell [Dell Computers]. So, I knew at that time that I would never follow the traditional corporate way of working for other people and that I had an entrepreneurial spirit.
But I would say the biggest highlight of my life was becoming a father. I have a 10-year-old son and my daughter is 11.
When did you get your record deal? Tell me about your record, “The Rise, The Fall, The Rise.”
In 1993 I signed a record deal with Vision Records. That was a big thing. It didn’t work out the way I thought it would, but I learned a lot from that experience and from that I was able to start my own label called Educated Records. The album was really about coming up as a street guy, being poor, making fast money, and then losing it all in the blink of an eye. I got that record deal when I was 23 and got a lot of money real fast. I lost everything. I took time to educate myself – the meaning of my label – and I came back up. That was the rise. I learned that it takes a lot to make it out here. It’s not just about fancy cars and hot women, it’s about understanding that – God willing – tomorrow’s gonna come.
How did you get into the liquor business?
I had owned a few clubs and some hotels, but my father, who’s from West Virginia and part American Indian, was an amateur wine maker. I was always fascinated with what he did. I was looking to expand my hotel brand internationally and wanted something that would transcend all barriers. I noticed that, even while the economic times were changing, people were still celebrating and the one thing that crossed those barriers was alcohol. So, I started researching it, and decided it’s what I wanted to do.
Vodka is the fastest growing premium spirit in the world.
V-Georgio. I’m assuming the V is for Victor. What’s Georgio?
That’s my middle name
It sounds very V.I.P.
There you go. My mom and dad knew something [laughs].
Describe the taste that you’ve developed? Why is your vodka unique?
We utilize a patented technology that enables us to purify and oxidate any distilled spirit – whether its vodka, rum, cognac – unlike any one in the world can do. To keep it short, we’re able to remove the harsh impurities that make alcohol burn and we’re able to do it at the molecular level.
When did V Georgio hit South Florida, and why are we the launching point?
When I moved from here in the ‘90s, I knew I was always coming back. Miami has been a launch pad for a lot of different things, whether its music – from disco to bass – or fashion.
V. Georgio is not about me. It’s about us. It’s something that all of Miami can embrace and take pride in, like we do art deco, disco, or fashion. We can say, ‘hey this started in Miami, and we set trends for the world – no matter what we do.’
Tell me what’s next for V. Georgio?
Right now, were focusing on expanding into some of the bigger markets, like New York and L.A. We’re already in Las Vegas. We have some national stuff going on, but right now, to be honest, we’re just having fun with it. But we are set, determined, and prepared to take over ultra-premium vodka market within the next five years. That’s our plan.
I know you guys have been hosting a lot of parties. How have they been, and are there any upcoming ones we should know about?
Obviously, the big game [Super Bowl] was a big one. Shaq’s birthday party was really big, because I knew Shaq from when I lived in L.A. So to see him and Shaunie, his wife, and be part of that was really good. A big highlight was also the BCS National Championship party and that’s because it brought me back to my days in college and to see everybody come together was really good. But I would say the biggest one was the V. Georgio take over party at the Fontainebleau, which we recently did. Again, that was a celebration of Miami, and to see Miami come out and support the brand was really overwhelming.
We’ve done work for the American Heart Association, and held numerous other charitable events. That’s one of the biggest, most important things, is actually giving back. On Oct. 25, were starting a year-long, nation-wide campaign of parties called Party with a Purpose. And every party that we do will be tied in with a charity. Better times are coming. So we want people – if they enjoy partying – to know that it’s OK to party with a purpose.
I’ve heard that you are one of the only African-American owners…
Really, the only?
The only African American to own a distilled spirits company in the world.
What’s it like to hold that title and do you feel that you face challenges that other CEOs don’t have to endure?
Obviously, I’m very proud. But I couldn’t do it by myself. I think everyone who’s come before me in whatever industry has paved the way for this opportunity. It really excites me to know that I won’t be the last, and I know that opens the doors to other African Americans.
You live in Weston. Why?
When I lived here before I was in Miami Beach, which is a great, great city, but I was 23 and single. Now, I’m 42 and single, and I’m very much a family guy. I have two young kids who live with me and Weston is a great place to raise a family.
You're top three things about Miami:
1. The women [laughs]. I’ve got to keep it real. I’m single and got nothing to hide.
2. The diversity.
3. The trend setting - as far as fashion, entertainment, clubs - whatever you want to call it.
Victor Harvey and friends