Despite the sexual harassment lawsuit facing the company and its former CEO, there’s no culture problem at Talking Rain.
At least, that’s the assessment of the company’s COO, Chris Hall, who offered it and some insight into the company’s ongoing marketplace status during a brief talk at the just-concluded National Association of Convenience Stores show this week in Chicago.
Hall spoke with BevNET following a report the previous day that the company and its former CEO, Kevin Klock, had been named in a lawsuit alleging that Klock had sexually harassed an employee in March, and that the company had retaliated against her even after Klock had left the sparkling water company.
“We have a great group of people, who are all really high energy,” Hall said, as a company communications representative accompanied him at a high-top table in the Talking Rain booth. “We’ve got an entrepreneurial spirit, and I feel like you’re able to run your own future.”
Asked directly whether there was a culture of harassment at the company, Hall said there was not, and then deflected further questions about the Klock lawsuit and Talking Rain’s internal policies with regard to human resources and sexual harassment training back to the company’s legal team.
Otherwise, Hall, recently promoted from a role as vice president of sales, made it clear that he thought the company was on the right track from a leadership perspective.
Hall said he was confident in the leadership of new president Marcus Smith, adding that “there has been some shuffling around, some changes, and we’re in a better position as a company… due to the fact that we have a clear strategy.”
Smith was named interim CEO following Klock’s departure; according to Hall, the former CFO is now Talking Rain’s president, reporting directly to ownership. Additionally, the company’s former COO, Michael Lowes, has moved into the role of chief business development officer.
Hall, a Nebraskan who has served in the U.S. Navy, has worked at the company for the last decade. He acknowledged that the company has had to adjust some of its sales strategies in the past year, particularly in the convenience channel. Overall revenue growth has leveled off from the 50 to 60 percent increases that propelled the business forward earlier in the decade – something that he said was inevitable as “the customer base widened.”
With high volume penetration in conventional supermarkets and club stores, the convenience channel is becoming even more important in order for Talking Rain’s core product, Sparkling Ice, to continue to grow. To address that, he said, the brand has introduced a convenience-friendly set of four 16 oz. cans. The new package, he said, will be much better suited to fit into the glide racks of most stores. Two of the four SKUs will also include about 80 mg of caffeine.
Hall would not comment on his own role in concerning the events that led up to the harassment lawsuit. He was described as the person to whom Alisha Copeland, at the time a sales operations manager at Talking Rain, had reported Klock’s alleged sexual assault. According to Copeland’s lawsuit, she had confided in Hall, her immediate superior, following Klock’s alleged actions on March 1 in Las Vegas. Klock left the company on March 10.
While the incident may have shaken the company temporarily, Hall added, “Marcus got promoted and we’ve kept moving forward.”
Correction: A previous version of this story reported that Michael Lowes, the former COO of Talking Rain, had departed the company. Lowes has moved to a new position within the company. BevNET regrets the error.