As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan to Rebuild in The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ricky Wright, President, Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer and Director of Alkaline88.
Mr. Wright co-founded The Alkaline Water Company Inc. in 2012 as a premium water brand when the word “alkaline” was associated with the Energizer bunny. As the president and CEO, he oversees all aspects of the business and is successfully guiding the company through its hyper-growth phase, delivering greater than 50% growth since the company’s inception. In a short span of six years, The Alkaline Water company has captured approximately a 5% share of the functional water category and is the 10th largest enhanced water brand in the U.S. Recently, the company has announced its foray into the CBD space with a comprehensive line of ingestibles and topical products. The nascent CBD industry is expected to grow to $20 billion by 2024, according to industry analysts.
Mr. Wright is a serial entrepreneur with over 43 years of experience. He is a passionate and versatile leader with a strong track record of innovation, collaboration, and achieving goal-driven results. The earlier part of his career was spent at one of the “Big Four” accounting firms where he was a Regional Director of Tax and Financial Planning. As a former CFO, CPA, and entrepreneur, Mr. Wright has extensive knowledge of finance, operations, sales and marketing and has participated in 100’s of M&A transactions throughout his career. As a veteran beverage executive, he has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Forbes, featured on Cheddar live from the NYSE and TD Ameritrade’s Network live from Nasdaq, and continues to be quoted as an industry expert in several industry-focused trade publications on both functional water and CBD. When not working, Mr. Wright loves to spend time with his wife, 7 kids, and 15 grandkids and is actively involved in local charities.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My 43-year journey started when I came out of one of the Big 4 accounting firms, where I developed disciplines and successful models that lead to many great ventures. After becoming regional director, I was offered a large equity position to become president of a growing restaurant concept. With my Big 4 experience and early entrepreneurial ventures, I’d developed criteria to identify business opportunities and concepts that I felt had the chance to grow into major enterprises. My latest is The Alkaline Water Company Inc., which I co-founded in 2012 and is now the second largest alkaline water brand in the country. We have since expanded into the lifestyle brand “A88” that includes Alkaline88 water, flavored waters, and A88CBD, all of which continue to have tremendous growth potential.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When I first ventured into restaurant entrepreneurship, I flew to one of our restaurant concepts; shakes, fries, and burgers diner theme. It was my first week as president and the first time I visited, I noticed the waitresses were dancing on the counters! I instinctively asked that they get down, but it was part of the theme! It was embarrassingly funny. What I learned from this experience is to always show up as a customer, rather than a boss. This way, you can fully immerse yourself into the experience of the concept from an outsider looking in, not an insider looking out.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I love “The Giver”. I already possessed a lot of the business acumen that was in there, but the end talked about being a giver as well as a receiver. I read that book 15–20 years ago and it still stays in my mind to always listen to the opportunities being offered to me. I took a call today that I did not think would provide our business too much value on the basis of this mentality. It in fact provided a lot more value than expected. So, take that call, attend that meeting, walk through doors that are open to you. You never know what gift you’ll receive on the other side of the “door”.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I like to believe I’m a builder at heart. I know I’m in business to make money and enhance shareholder value, but I’m also in business to build opportunities for others. I am always happy when I can create and offer more jobs and contribute to the success of our suppliers. It’s not always about the gains. I feel better knowing our success benefits others and not just myself.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Complete the task at hand. Spend the time on projects that you can complete and move them off your to-do list. Most people tend to get involved in today’s new project before yesterday’s project was completed. Every day will bring new challenges, so by completing yesterday’s, you’ll have energy and resources for today’s challenges.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I caught the virus myself recently. I was blessed enough not to have severe symptoms, but my family was also sick, and it was a difficult three weeks. My daughter’s oxygen dropped into the 80s at one point. We have all since recovered and remained cautious about our working relationships among our family because we do have children and grandchildren with vulnerabilities. It’s been an impact, but we’ve managed to share a lot of joy as well with our time together.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
In my 43 years of experience, this pandemic is by far the toughest work environment I have faced. We’ve had to adapt to the shift to eCommerce and we did it well. A lot of our suppliers and potential customers weren’t deemed as “essential” which has slowed down some of our initiatives, i.e., our entrée into hospitality. In addition, my water co-packers which were “essential” were very concerned about outbreaks in their plants which could shut them down, and we all proceeded with caution together. Because we had our raw materials made in the USA, we were able to ramp up production and thrive against our competitors. On the CBD side, in particular, a lot of our competitors went out of business which is giving A88CBD extra shelf space across the country.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Although our company makes no health claims, my first advice is to take some of our A88CBD! There is not a single family member over 18 to whom I have not given that recommendation. In addition, I would say even though we are quarantined, keep yourself busy and entertained with plenty of things you can do. My children and grandkids play with their new cotton candy machines, new crafts (making t-shirts at home), and pop some popcorn and enjoy some of the streaming entertainment that used to only be available at the theaters. Take advantage of this leisure time and have fun. My family has managed to have really fun and efficient, socially-distanced gatherings. If it can be done in a controlled environment (lots of hand sanitizers, masks for those that are uncomfortable, etc.), you can still socialize, just in a different fashion.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I think e-commerce will continue to build and become the new norm, especially because of the work-from-home environment. We’ll continue to see an increase in retail e-commerce as consumers that never thought of using a computer to order groceries or other necessities are now doing it on a regular basis. They have gained technical functionality that they didn’t possess pre-covid. We pivoted early on in the pandemic to a full e-commerce strategy for both our water and CBD. However, I think people will always want to interact with touch and feel. On the CBD side of my business, I anticipate a more mainstream brick and mortar experience with CBD products that customers will likely visit in-person to familiarize themselves with the products and choose what’s best for them.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I’m hopeful it won’t change too much, but hopefully, we will be more conscious to wash our hands and cover our mouths when we cough and actually benefit the upcoming flu season. The COVID virus will run its course and we will eventually pull through this. I’m hopeful that we have learned to take care of and manage ourselves and our loved ones responsibly and continue with the aim of a new normal.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We already took steps before COVID really hit our economy. I conducted business through the Jim Carter era and the crash in ’08. I have witnessed several downturns in our economy over the years. I knew right away we needed to be aggressive to our responsiveness and pricing models to best serve our customers. We gained market share in the value-added water category, and on the CBD side, we intend to continue expanding into specialty stores and grow our market share. Eventually, international markets will open up, and we’ll be ready to expand capacity across the board.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Stay in sync with your consumer audience, team members and stakeholders. Keep communication clear and open throughout times of uncertainty and be ready to adapt and pivot when necessary.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I always say, “people matter and not things”. Going back to what drives me as an entrepreneur, I love creating jobs for families and watching employees succeed. Every one of our employees has an equity stake in our company and we all aim to succeed together. Those around me know that is my driving philosophy. My kids have all manifested that from working in orphanages, working with the homeless, third grade reading programs, etc. My legacy is through my family.
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