Player Profile: Sands returns to Snapple, plans to go against grain

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You can go home again.

Now chief marketing officer at Snapple Beverage Group, Michael Sands returned after 18 months at Ben & Jerry's Homemade. Back on the job less than a year, he's launching products, consolidating advertising, and expanding his marketing team as competitors contract.

Moving quickly comes naturally for Mr. Sands, a 36-year-old dervish who has been a businessman since before he could drive. As a high school student in St. Paul, Minn., he ran Snow N' Mow, a moving and snow removal service. Starting out, the business was just an industrious 15-year-old Mike and his mower. By the time he sold it three years later to help finance his education at the select Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., he had 50 customers, four employees and a fleet of lawnmowers, snowplows and a tractor.

Mr. Sands graduated in 1987 with a degree in marketing and returned to the Twin Cities for an account exec gig at a local agency. Grey Advertising, New York, hired him away and set him to work on clients such as BF Goodrich and SmithKline Beecham for more than two years.

He departed Madison Avenue in the early `90s to become assistant brand manager on Ragu and other brands at food giant Unilever. From there, it was on to Labatt USA as brand manager on Rolling Rock beer, then director of marketing for its Mexican portfolio of brews.

SNAPPLE'S TURN

Then it was Snapple's turn. Mr. Sands spent two years as VP-marketing as part of the core team that helped resuscitate the business after three ruinous years under the ownership of Quaker Oats Co. He left Snapple to become chief marketing officer at Ben & Jerry's, which-during his second month on the job-said it was looking for a suitor.

He commuted between his post in Vermont and his wife in New York for the next 16 months before returning to Snapple, by that time owned by Britain's Cadbury-Schweppes. One appeal of the deep-pocketed confectioner and soft drink company, he said, was its tendency to let its units operate independently. He was also impressed with its appreciation for local marketing and its deep resources.

Another attraction was that the new job would allow time for running and playing ice hockey-and a chance to keep off the 30 pounds he gained at the gourmet ice creamery.

Among products launched under his reign are Snapple's herb-infused New Age Elements line and Venom energy drink. Venom went from concept to convenience store in 71 days. "That's how fast we can work to get things done. That's how good the team is at Snapple," he said.

He also was so impressed with his team at Deutsch, New York, which helped revive the brand in the '90s, that he consolidated his business there over the summer (AA, Aug. 20). Now the Interpublic Group of Cos. shop will handle interactive and promotions work in addition to advertising and public relations.

As for going home, Mr. Sands is happy to be spending more time there than just than three consecutive nights. For 12 months before returning to Snapple, the road warrior rarely spent four consecutive nights in any one place. His timing couldn't be better; his first child was born this summer.

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