DS Waters of America, a privately held company based in Atlanta, GA, is gulping down companies with an unquenchable thirst. So far this year, it has reportedly sucked up six acquisitions, including Seattle-based Athena Partners.
Today, DS, one of the country’s biggest water-cooler delivery companies, which delivers to homes and offices, owning some 25 manufacturing sites across some 40 US states, announced the launch of its Athena® brand bottled water in all USA markets and via internet sales channels.
Athena bottled water is noticeable by the signature pink ribbon splashed on every bottle.
You might be more familiar with some other regional brands offered by DS– Alhambra, Belmont Springs, Crystal Springs, Hinckley Springs, Kentwood Springs, Nursery, Sierra Springs, and Sparkletts. The company also operates a national coffee and tea delivery service under the Roast2Coast banner and sells water filtration systems.
Founded in 2003, DS Waters has grown through the acquisition of regional brands and is owned by private investment fund Kelso & Co.
Why do I care about today’s announcement?
The brand Athena and the Athena Partners organization were founded in 2003 by Trish May, a breast cancer survivor, to raise money for women’s cancer research, awareness and education. I profile Trish in my book,What’s Next? and had the opportunity to spend time with her and learn about how and why she launched this water company as a new career path after taking early retirement from Microsoft.
Trish landed at Microsoft in 1985 at the age of thirty-one with an MBA and four years of marketing experience with Golden Grain Macaroni Company. She rose through a series of marketing positions and was a prime mover behind the product that became Microsoft’s PowerPoint. By 1999 savings from her six-figure salary and the stock options packaged with it easily enabled her to retire comfortably.
When she resigned as director of marketing and strategic planning at Microsoft and began to assemble her dream company, Athena Partners, a Seattle-based nonprofit corporation that sold Athena bottled water and donated 100 percent of the net proceeds to women’s cancer research, she could have opted for a lifestyle of private jets, worldwide travel, and charity boards, but instead she chose to work. So did her husband, Peter, a University of Washington political science professor. May did, however, exchange seventy-hour work weeks for a mere forty to fifty hours a week—but no salary.
“I knew I could write a check, but it wouldn’t necessarily go very far,” May told me. “I needed to invest some money and let it grow and generate an annuity that over time would continue to contribute.”
And that’s where her marketing prowess took over. “My mission was to raise funds and awareness to help make real research progress.”
She knows first hand the need. Trish has had her own battle with breast cancer, and her mother died of ovarian cancer. “My cancer was the catalyst, but all of those factors converged to make me ready, willing, and able to do this.”
Her background and working at Microsoft gave her the resources, the skill, and a little bit of courage, a little chutzpah. That confidence in her own abilities gave her the passion and the drive to make something happen.
And there was the nonprofit side. “By the time I was ready to launch the business, I had about five years of being out in the community working with other nonprofits, interacting with other people who had started nonprofits, and starting to get that perspective and that experience,” Trish recalled.
But wasn’t all smooth sailing. “It’s been like building or remodeling a house—it’s a lot harder than I expected. There are so many things that came along that I didn’t anticipate, and it’s been expensive and challenging. When we first got started, I didn’t quite appreciate was how much time, effort, and money it would take to launch this new organization and product.”
Trish did what she set out to do. During her reign, Athena contributed $336,000 to organizations, including Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the Marsha Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer Research, and the University of Washington’s UW Medicine.
DS CEO Dillon Schickli has pledged to continue her dream.
Each bottle of Athena water sold generates a contribution to the cause. Every time you purchase Athena’s brand name bottled water, DS Waters contributes a portion of the proceeds to breast cancer research, awareness and education, with a minimum contribution of $400,000 through 2013. DS Waters already has an agreement with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure® organization and will be donating a minimum of $800,000 by 2016. Pour that into the Athena proceeds for a guaranteed total of at least $1.2 million in funding by the end of 2016.
When I last spoke to Trish she had not taken a non-working vacation in six years. I just put a call into her to find out how she feels about selling her company. (The deal actually went down quietly in late July.) I haven’t heard back yet. Perhaps she’s in St. Barths with no wireless access. Hope so.
Her story is a good reminder that what you choose to do next does not have to be a forever choice. In today’s working world, there are many chapters. If you take that approach, it can somehow make taking that next step a little easier to tackle.
Kerry Hannon is the author of What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job, available herewww.kerryhannon.com.