Derek Herrera signed on as CEO of US energy drink company RuckPack this month. He is a veteran Marine Special Operations Officer and paraplegic, who was injured taking an enemy bullet in the spine in 2012 while leading his team during combat operations in Afghanistan.
Herrera is now taking over the reins at RuckPack from Marine Corps Major Rob Dyer, founder and former CEO of the company.
RuckPack is a caffeine-free peak performance nutrition energy shot, developed by Dyer and tested by his team of special operations forces while on the front lines, and now available for the mass market.
The business received initial investment on ABC’s ‘Shark Tank’ in 2012 and is now a $5m company.
Herrera talks to BeverageDaily.com about how his military experience influences him as a CEO; how he juggles a packed timetable; and his tips for the next big thing in functional beverages.
What do you do? Tell us about your role as CEO.
"As the CEO of RuckPack, I lead my team in the execution of our overall business strategy. My role is to analyze the current economic picture and what is happening in the industry, and then identify the actions needed to take the company where we want it to go.
"Once our team has developed the strategy, our employees take action to achieve our goals. At that point my role is to continue to monitor and identify any opportunities or resources that may support continued growth."
When you were a Marine special operations officer, did you ever imagine you would go on to become a CEO?
"I recently set a personal goal to run a successful business. I didn’t know how and when this would manifest, but when the opportunity arose I was ready to take on the challenge.
"One of the major reasons why I wanted to lead a business was to show others, particularly veterans, and employers, the relevance a military skillset has in the civilian business world."
How did you get into the industry? What’s your background?
"I got into the functional beverage industry because I saw an incredible opportunity to build and lead a small team of motivated individuals in taking a small company to the next level. This is very similar to my background as a Marine special operations officer, where I led small teams in very chaotic and uncertain environments.
"I had no idea I would end up in this industry, but I’ve worked tirelessly to get up to speed, quickly gaining industry knowledge - it has become my new passion."
Do you think your military background makes you approach business differently to others? If so, how?
"Differently, yes. Experienced leaders from the military are taught to quickly gain contextual understanding of any situation, clearly outline a strategy and continuously manage the execution of such a strategy while still maintaining awareness of the changing business landscape to ensure the plan is still relevant and effective."
What do you like most about your job?
"The part I like most about my job is speaking with customers to hear their feedback about RuckPack. And as much as I like to hear positive feedback, I love to hear any negative feedback they may have as well."
What's the hardest thing about your job?
"Time management. There are so many different things I could be doing throughout the day and only so many hours, so deciding how and where to spend my time is definitely the hardest thing I face. Because of this I am very meticulous in analyzing my daily routine and schedule."
What advice would you give people interested in a job in your field?
"Do as much research as possible. There are so many different aspects and specialties in the functional beverage industry that all interact and inform aspects of other parts of the business. The more you can understand about the industry and the forces that act within it, the better you will be able to perform your own specialty.
"For example, if someone working in product development can better understand sales and marketing, there’s a higher potential to design a product meets the needs of the consumers the company is looking to support."
You offer veterans an opportunity to earn cash through commissioned sales, and 10% of profits benefit military charities. Why did the company introduce these initiatives?
"We introduced our Veteran’s Distributor Program because we are committed to providing jobs or supplemental income for any veterans that are willing and interested in representing our brand. To this end we have had more than 200 veterans sign up. Being able to offer them an opportunity to make money has been incredibly rewarding.
"Giving back and supporting veterans is central to our brand identity, and we have continued to give 10% of profits back to non-profit organizations that support veterans and the families in the Special Operations Community."
What do you see as the next top trend in energy drinks in five years time?
"The biggest trend I am seeing in the functional beverage industry is the desire and demand from consumers to provide healthy alternatives to the current products on the market. I think we will continue to see a decline in high-calorie drinks with extreme stimulants.
"Our products have no caffeine, very little carbohydrate, and no extreme stimulants. We have seen an increase in the competition in our market because the consumers have demanded it. I think this will continue to expand as consumers are becoming more aware of what they put in their bodies."