Although he's sometimes most proud of being a jock, 38-year-old Queens, N.Y., native Mike Repole can also brag about his entrepreneurial prowess. As the co-founder of Glacéau, the successful maker of Vitaminwater, he's guided the private drinkmaker (which also produces Fruitwater and electrolyte-enhanced Smartwater) to sales that are expected to surpass $1 billion soon. The company is so hot, Coca-Cola scooped it up this spring for a reported $4.1 billion. Not bad for a guy who set out to make his living on the court, not in the boardroom.
MF: How'd the idea for Vitaminwater come about?
MR: I'm an avid basketball player—my dream growing up was to coach the St. John's basketball team. My business partner plays tennis. We were looking for something that met our needs. Vitaminwater is something new—water with nutrients. It's not a sports drink, it's not a water; it's a lifestyle brand. You drink what your body needs.
You really did create a whole new type of product. How do you convince consumers to drink something new?
It was tough just trying to convince family members. [Laughs] Eight years ago, when we told people we had a new product called Vitamin- water, they looked at us like we were speaking a different language. We had to explain the product constantly to get people to try it.
Does loving sports make you a better manager?
I don't like the word manager. I like the word coach. I always tell my team, “Don't manage—coach.” The goal of a coach is to make your players or employees better at what they do. Really, what's the difference between a major com- pany and a sports franchise? In both cases, the team with the best players usually wins.
How do you manage to stay fit?
We built a basketball court at our headquarters, so I play out there every day. In the winter, I play indoors. On the court, there are no organizational charts. I expect everyone to play to win. Foul me. Talk trash. If you're willing to foul the president of the company on the court, that means you are not going to be intimidated by anything in the business world.
Describe your dream employee.
When I hire people, I look for individuals who have passion and are competitive. The most competitive often have played high school or college sports, run marathons, or somehow made working out intensively part of their lives. During job interviews, I always ask people if they are a sore loser. If they say yes, they are more likely to get the job, because to love to win you have to have passion and competitiveness. I never did get to coach St. John's, but I tell myself I did get the head coaching job at Glacéau.
So, be honest, are you a sore loser?
I am the biggest sore loser you'll meet. [Laughs] In business, they tell you to spend time with people smarter than you are if you want to be successful. Well, if you want to be a better ballplayer, go up against more talented players. I am 38 and I play with twenty-somethings. I hold my own. They just recover a little faster than I do. [Laughs] Repole shows off his moves on the company's private court.