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Sip By Sip

How one alumnus built a premium water bottle brand

Twenty years after Scott Allan '92 graduated from Kellogg, two classmates sought him out with an off-the-wall opportunity.

James Crouthamel '92 and Alan Warms '92, were angel investors working with a friend in private equity to find a chief executive for Hydro Flask, a small yet promising water bottle company that they all had invested in. The role was based in Bend, Oregon, where Allan could pursue mountain biking and snowboarding.

"I said 'no' as many times as I possibly could, until I couldn't anymore," says Allan, who worked in Silicon Valley and maintained a residence in Bend at the time. "Then I realized I wanted to try to merge my passions to play in the outdoors and work in the outdoors," he says.

He took the reins in 2012.

Allan was part of the first graduating class to get an MBA from Kellogg and a master's in engineering management from the McCormick School of Engineering. Right away, his experience in that program allowed him to dive into the manufacturing process. "One of the first things I did was visit the factories in Asia. Part of the MMM Program background meant I could walk in and quickly get my bearings," he recalls.

Strategy-focused courses helped him understand how to repurpose what was essentially thermos technology into products made for keeping beverages cold rather than keeping them hot, he explains. "In the early stages, the strategy classes taught us to think about the bigger picture," he says. "This helped me create a roadmap around building a premium active-lifestyle type brand."

"I'm very much a person that planned out my career, and the best thing that ever happened to me was to reconsider the linear high-technology track and explore something new."

As the company grew, he found parallels with his previous life in tech. "We had all the same challenges of scaling and hyper growth," he recalls.

In 2017, Hydro Flask reported $107 million in sales, up from $2 million when Allan took over in 2012. Hydro Flask also became the number-one water bottle brand in the American sporting goods, outdoor and natural foods markets.

Moving to the Pacific Northwest has turned into a lifestyle choice with a focus on balance. At home, his children have led active lives with access to the outdoors. He's also had time to rethink his own career trajectory: "I'm very much a person who planned out my career, and the best thing that ever happened to me was to reconsider the linear high-technology track and explore something new," he says.

Three years ago, global consumer products manufacturer Helen of Troy acquired Hydro Flask, where Allan serves as senior vice president and global general manager. With Hydro Flask quickly becoming a global brand, he is continuing to develop international markets and visiting retailers to better understand their needs. "As we've gotten larger, our competitors are more global," he says.

Allan is also moving the brand beyond the water bottle to offer insulated backpack-type softcoolers that can keep food and beverages cold for 48 hours. "We're trying to leverage our insulation and on-the-go expertise," he says.

As Hydro Flask expands, he relishes the new opportunities. "When we leave Kellogg, we are trained to solve problems and work with other people, but most of us also leave with this desire to keep learning."


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