CEO Bill Meissner Resigns from Jones Soda

Bill Meissner called the job of running Jones Soda – and trying to restore the legendary entrepreneurial brand to prominence – the ultimate opportunity.

That opportunity ended before he reached his ultimate goal.

Meissner, the CEO of the Seattle-based brand that has long been a youth favorite for its inventive flavors, creative, user-generated packaging and unconventional attitude, resigned yesterday following a series of disagreements with the publicly-traded company’s board of directors. Leaving with Meissner were board chair Richard Eisworth and CFO James Stapleton. Meissner will be replaced as CEO by Jennifer Cue, a former CFO and COO at Jones who rejoined the board in this year after leaving in 2005.

Cue will be the company’s fifth CEO in five years.

“It really just boiled down to strategic differences and how we viewed the business, its opportunities and challenges,” Meissner told BevNET. “It’s really important for a company to be aligned from the top down.   Without this, execution becomes very difficult.  The separation of the chairman, our CFO and me really allows the company to go forward with alignment on its view of the business and the strategy from the board all the way through the new management team.  “

The company is expected to slash spending in an attempt to consolidate the gains it had made in rebuilding the Jones brand behind its core offerings. Cue has long been regarded as one of the key employees who assisted the company’s rise under founder Peter van Stolk, although she left soon after van Stolk as the public company’s share price began to flag.

“Our objective is to align the Company’s cost structure with its operating resources and position the Company for profitable revenue generation,” said Mick Fleming, the company’s new board chair.

Meissner joined Jones in April, 2010, leaving Talking Rain, where he had also been CEO. He had immediately taken to the road to try to rebuild faith in the brand’s national DSD network.

Under Meissner, the company had slashed several underperforming members of the brand family, including Naturals, Organics, 24C and Gaba, along with many Jones Soda varieties, instead focusing the company behind its best selling Jones Soda SKUs and trying to revive the company’s energy drink fortunes behind the WhoopAss line, which was re-branded with a more masculine, exercise-oriented image. In the spring, Jones attempted to move back into the natural channel via the launch of Jones au Naturel, a line of fortified natural CSDs with fiber and stevia.

“The products are great, the employees are phenomenal and over the last 24 months we built a solid distribution network able to service all channels of trade,” Meissner said of Jones and its future. “With a host of new authorizations including WalMart, Safeway and the entire Kroger organization accomplished over the last 24 months they have a great base to further build from.  The innovation from the rebranding of WhoopAss to the launch of Au Naturel’ provides the company with higher margin products consistent with its core sparkling capabilities.  There were a host of onerous contracts and sponsorships that we were able get out of and the write off of significant obsolete inventory.  It’s very clean and there is a solid base to go forward with now.”

In April, Cue returned as a director to the company that she had helped build with van Stolk. Cue had served as an interim CFO the year before until the company had brought on Stapleton as the full-time CFO. At the time, Stapleton had said he was eager to help “play a role in the ongoing momentum” at Jones, where the “brand, product line and team are all moving in the right direction.”