From Rags To Riches: How One Bro Went From Working In An M&Ms Factory To Making Millions In Marketing
If the name Rohan Oza rings a bell it’s probably because you work in Marketing. He’s no A-List celebrity, but he’s got plenty of a-listers on speed dial (like 50 Cent, Guy Ritchie, Rihanna, and Madonna). He’s made millions upon millions of dollars as a former Coca-Cola executive where he helped build Sprite into one of the hippest brands of its time, and from there he went on to make an absolute killing off of Vitamin Water.
Rohan Oza is now working on a new venture, Bai, which he claims “solves the diet dilemma”. He’s already got Taylor Swift in his crosshairs to make his next fortune, and Bai as a company is already valued at $500 million. To talk about how he made his fortune off working with celebrity endorsers and the genius behind his marketing acumen Rohan Oza sat down with Business Insider for an interview, which I’ve culled a few excerpts down below for you to read before clicking over to read the full interview.
BI: The self-depicted “brand messiah” didn’t have it all handed to him on a plate. He started off his career in manufacturing in an M&Ms factory in the industrial British town of Slough. Now he counts 50 Cent, Guy Ritchie, and Rihanna – who he calls RiRi – as some of his closest celebrity business partners and friends.
Business Insider: How did this all come about? Did you always want to be in marketing?
RO: After going to Harrow [a famous private boarding school in Britain] and then Nottingham University, my first job was actually in a factory for Mars’ M&Ms. I was involved with the manufacturing side but I really wanted to get into marketing. I asked my boss but he said I didn’t have the necessary marketing skills. I said “alright, let’s agree to disagree,” and I left to go to Michigan in the US to study for my MBA. I always wanted to be building an iconic brands and the US is the place where all of those global brands were at the time.
Just that old ‘my factory worker boss said I couldn’t hack it here so I moved to the U.S. and somehow got an MBA at a prestigious school and went on to be an executive at Coca-Cola story….These stories are a dime a dozen these days…
BI: So you ended up working at Coca-Cola, surely that was the pinnacle for you?
RO: I was an executive at Coca-Cola and was part of an amazing team that made Sprite one of the coolest brands in America. I helped build the brand with smart partnerships and built a bridge between Sprite and hip-hop culture and got American artists, NBA athletes and all those people on board. I brought Sprite to life on basketball courts and at concerts. I then was moved to (another Coca Cola brand) Powerade.
While I helped sales grow more than 30% at brands like Sprite, it is very hard to make the same massive impact at other brands – these companies are too big and there are too many cooks in the kitchen. I wasn’t very corporate either so I thought I would jump ship before Coca-Cola fired me.
BI: How did you grow the company so rapidly? (Oza helped grow the company’s sales to $700 million a year by the time he left in 2004.)
RO: I believe in the brand and Vitamin Water is a breakthrough product in the food and beverage industry. I believe in making a product a success you need to be a brand messiah, not a marketing manager. I only hire brand messiahs – they live and breathe the product, not just sell it. They have to create a culture around the product itself. There’s a statistic out there that 1 in 10 people influence the rest of us. So you have got to find who those people are to spread the word.
You’d think that a man who made a fucking FORTUNE off of Vitamin Water would retire young and live off his investments, but not this bro, he keeps on building his marketing empire!!!!!!
BI: Vitamin Water ended up selling for billions to Coca-Cola, why didn’t you retire after that? What’s your net worth?
RO: [Laughing] Let’s just say my mum is very proud. I know business publications like to talk about net worth but I don’t really like talking about it. You can make a guess from knowing I entered Vitamin Water very early on and the company sold for $4 billion.
When it sold, though, I didn’t want to retire, so I became a venture capitalist and be involved with products that I really connect with – like Vita Coco (coconut water), Pop Chips, and Bai (anti-oxidant infusion drinks). Bai itself is now valued at $500 million.
BI: So what’s next on the venture list for you?
RO: Bai is my favourite in the gang in a nutshell. It solves the diet dilemma – everyone wants things to taste good but without a tonne of sugar. This takes out the likes of Pepsi and the Coca-Cola. People also are growing more towards to not having artificial sweeteners, so that strips out the Diet Cokes and Diet Sprites out there too. Bai solves this. It’s not big in the UK but it will be.
The entire interview is quite fascinating, because this man’s made a ridiculous amount of money off perfecting the art of the celebrity spokesperson. There’s a bit in there about how 9/11 and terrorist activity completely derailed his early strategy, and how he had to pivot.
If you’re interested in marketing and/or entrepreneurship then CLICK HERE to head on over to Business Insider to read that interview in full!