Celsius Holdings, Inc., makers of the zero-calorie fitness drink Celsius, last week announced that CEO Gerry David will be stepping down on March 1, ending a five-year tenure in which he helped lead a rebound for the once-struggling brand.
The company’s board of directors named John Fieldly, the current CFO of Celsius, as interim President and CEO. David will continue to work with Celsius as a consultant on retainer through the end of the year and will assist with the transition.
In an interview with BevNET, David explained that a combination of personal factors and the company’s strong current position contributed to his decision to leave after a half-decade at the helm of Celsius.
“I just felt like it was time,” David, 64, said. “I came and did what I do and got the business turned around. It’s a good time for me to pass the baton to someone who can take it to the next level.”
Prior to joining Celsius in October, 2011, David was a turnaround specialist and worked with a number of failing companies in various industries, including manufacturing and direct sales. He called his experience in taking Celsius back from the brink of collapse as the “toughest by far” of all his past corporate revivals.
“The company had gone dark for 18 months before I got there,” he said. “There was no marketing, no nothing.”
Over the course of David’s tenure as CEO, Celsius made impressive gains in the fitness beverage category, posting record revenues for five consecutive years and an 18-fold increase in its stock price. The company raised $16 million through a group of notable strategic investment partners in April, 2015, including serial entrepreneur Russell Simmons and model Kimora Lee Simmons.
The brand expanded its distribution footprint under David’s administration. In 2016, the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps signed a partnership to carry Celsius in all bases around the globe, while 7-Eleven and Sunoco agreed to place the product in as many as 8,000 of their total locations.
Celsius also scored several celebrity endorsements during David’s time as CEO, the most prominent being rap artist Flo Rida, who began promoting the brand in 2014 and featured Celsius products in the music video for his Billboard number one single “My House.” The company renewed its 30-month partnership agreement with the artist last year.
“I have to tell you, it’s not me, it’s the team that really rose to the challenge,” David said. “I’m very thankful for all of our team members because they are really the ones that pulled this off. I was there to support them and give them direction and lead it.”
Celsius also staked out a strong position in Asian markets during David’s administration. Hong Kong business magnate Li Ka-Shing, who’s $31.5 billion net worth, according to Forbes, makes him the wealthiest individual in Asia, became a partner through his venture capital firm Horizon Ventures during the April, 2015 investment round. Celsius is distributed in Hong Kong at A.S. Watson, the world’s largest health and beauty retailer, owned by Li, with over 12,000 locations and $20 billion in annual revenue.
Yet David said that the grueling travel demands and off-hours schedule required to develop the brand’s presence in Asia was one of the driving forces behind his decision to step down as CEO, having logged over 200,000 air miles annually during his tenure. He said he was looking forward to returning to his home on the other side of Florida after spending the last five years living in a one-bedroom apartment near the company’s Boca Raton headquarters.
“It had become much more of a 24-hour job, because at nights I’m doing conference calls in a time zone with 13 hours difference as well as working all day,” David said, adding that the next Celsius CEO would likely have a different profile and experience to his own. “The expertise they needed when they brought me in was someone who understood how to turn a business around. But now I think potentially bringing somebody on with a beverage background is very important.”
Looking ahead to his own plans, David said he hopes to keep busy through the launch of his consulting business, Gerry David & Associates, while also leaving open the possibility of joining company boards of directors in the future.
But the next place to catch David may be the big screen rather than the boardroom. A veteran of Chicago’s Second City improv comedy group, he is due to join the cast of “Oldfellas,” a comedy about aging ex-mobsters living in a retirement community, which is due to be released next year, according to IMDB.
“The last thing I’m going to do is retire,” he said.