Bikoff, J. Darius
J. Darius Bikoff
Chief Executive Officer of Energy Brands
Born c. 1962, in New York; son of William (owner of a real estate management company and metals importer) and Suzie (a homemaker) Bikoff; married Nanne Puritz (an actress), May 28, 1994; children: one daughter. Education: Graduated from Colgate University, 1983.
Addresses: Home—New York, NY. Office—Glaceau, 17-20 Whitestone Expressway, Whitestone, NY 11357.
Began part-time at William Bikoff Associates Inc., a metals-importing business, early 1970s, and became company president, 1986; founded Glaceau Water Co., 1994, and Energy Brands, Inc., 1996; chief executive officer, Energy Brands, Inc., 1996–.
Pairing a savvy entrepreneurial streak with his own health-conscious lifestyle, J. Darius Bikoff almost single-handedly created a niche in the bottled-water market in the late 1990s with Glaceau, his line of vitamin-enhanced products. In its first decade in business, Glaceau rolled out innovative new quaffs such as Smartwater and Vitaminwater that soon came to dominate the niche that Bikoff had forecasted in the bottled-water sector. "The single most important thing you can do to improve the quality of life is to drink more water," he explained to Fortune's Christine Y. Chen about his inspiration behind his brand. "I didn't want it to be just any water. I wanted it to be better water."
Bikoff was born in the early 1960s and grew up in Sands Point, a community in Long Island, New York. His father ran a metals-importing business that sold aluminum to beverage companies for soda cans, and Bikoff began working there when he was just eleven years old. He started off answering the phones and doing various odd jobs around the office, but by the time he was in college he was conducting negotiations with European suppliers overseas on behalf of the company. After graduating from Colgate University in 1983, he went to work there full-time, and three years later his father made him president. "When I took over, the company had ten employees and $30 million in revenues," Bikoff told Chen in the Fortune interview. "During the ten years that I ran the business, we built it to 100 employees and [more than] $300 million in revenues."
Bikoff inherited an entrepreneurial streak from his father, who once invested heavily in a mining scheme in Iran in the early 1970s that later became part of one of the largest legal claims against the post-revolutionary Iranian government after Islamic fundamentalists seized the assets of all foreign businesses operating in the country a few years later. Like his father, who had moved on to a real-estate management venture he had founded, Bikoff also began thinking about starting his own business. The idea for Glaceau came to him in 1993, when reports surfaced in his New York City neighborhood about possible tap-water contamination. He headed to the corner market to stock up on some bottled water, where he was unimpressed by the choices on the shelves. There seemed to be little difference among the brands, nearly all of which sported labels featuring soothing but sedate images of trees or forests.
Bikoff began researching the bottled-water industry in earnest, even traveling to faraway places where natural springs were located. He was also an avid cyclist, and had long been frustrated with the caps most products used; his first foray into the beverage market came in 1994, when he patented a push-pull cap that made it easier to take swigs of water without braking the bike. Launched in 1994, his first Glaceau bottled water product featured the cap that quickly became standard in the industry over the next few years. The brand's name was his own concoction, a combination of the French words for "ice" and "water."
Bikoff's next product was Fruit-Infused Water, launched in 1995 and touted as a zero-calorie alternative to similar flavored but heavily sweetened products on the market. But his physical-fitness interests led him down another path: He knew that serious exercisers like himself needed to drink several quarts of water a day, but quaffing bottled waters with high mineral contents was a health risk. His idea was to infuse purified water with vitamins or other beneficial additives instead, and with that in mind he launched Smartwater in 1999, which contained extra electrolytes of calcium, magnesium, and potassium to boost the hydration benefits to the body. Such elements are rapidly depleted through perspiration when exercising.
Glaceau's most successful product, Vitaminwater, was launched in 2000. Its brightly colored labels, with an almost pharmaceutical look to them thanks to the clinical-style black typeface on a white background, stood out on store shelves, and quickly became a bestseller for the company. Early in 2001, LVMH—the holding company for luxury-goods brands Louis Vuitton, Moët Hennessy, and scores of fashion-design and fragrance companies—invested in Bikoff's Energy Brands, the parent company for Glaceau that he had set up back in 1996. The financial windfall helped Bikoff lure experienced managers from Coca-Cola and Pepsi, the world's most successful beverage giants, to his staff ranks.
Bikoff lives in Manhattan and continues to run the company out of the borough of Queens. Married and a father, he began sponsoring Vitaminschool, a national cooking contest for teens, in 2006. The idea for the venture came when he attended a food-services trade convention aimed at the school-lunch market, and was "appalled that not a single thing was fresh," he told Houston Chronicle writer Kimberly Stauffer. Instead the sample foods were "all processed and fried and fatty. I walked away thinking, 'I'll never eat this stuff. I wouldn't let my daughter eat it.'" The Vitaminschool program lets students compete for cash prizes allotted to their schools to improve the lunchtime menus. Once again, Bikoff seemed to be catching onto another major trend in healthy lifestyle habits, as nutrition experts were sounding alarms about escalating childhood obesity rates; other schools were trying out on-site gardens and vastly improved menus with great success. "Young people are a lot more sophisticated about nutrition than ever before," Bikoff told Stauffer in the Houston Chronicle article. "Given the opportunity to create their own nutrient-rich stuff, it's delicious and they actually like to eat it."
Energy Brands, Inc., is still a privately held company, and therefore is not required to disclose its financial data. In August of 2006, however, Bikoff sold off another stake in his business, this one to India's Tata Tea Ltd., which owns Tetley Tea, for $677 million. Tata bought a 30-percent stake Bikoff's company which hinted at a total valuation of at $2.2 billion. The early start in his father's offices as a child receptionist seems to have paid off for Bikoff. "I knew from day one he would go into business," his father, Bill Bikoff, told People's Galina Espinoza. "We're both Type-A personalities. It's a family trait."
Brandweek, November 13, 2000, p. 80.
Fortune, February 3, 2003, p. 108.
Houston Chronicle, June 1, 2006, p. 2.
New York Times, May 29, 1994; April 23, 2006.
People, November 19, 2001, p. 185.