Mark Hall, Hansen’s Natural/Monster Beverage

Sometimes, superstar brands come from the unlikeliest places.In this case, that would mean a podunk town in California, a healthy beverage company few had heard of and an idea guy who’d never taken a business or marketing class in his life (but whose experiences did include breaking his back in three places during a motorcycle escapade in the desert).

In fact, most people who pop open a can of Monster Energy drink have probably never heard of the Hansen Beverage Co. of Corona, Calif., and even fewer probably know the name Mark Hall. But if most consumers aren’t aware of the story of Monster Energy, the beverage segment sure is.

As well it should be. Life’s never been the same since this beast showed up.

Monster has dished out energy-drink pioneer Red Bull the stiffest competition it’s ever faced, leaving the formerly smooth-running company in a confusion of pricing strategies and a top-management beheading. Monster’s distribution alliance inked with Anheuser-
Busch in May 2006 and has been so successful that the beer giant is now furiously assembling a portfolio of nonalcoholic drinks in an effort to reinvent its entire brand. Monster’s parent, Hansen’s Natural (which was actually flirting with bankruptcy just a few years ago), is now on track to hit $1 billion in ’07 sales-and Monster’s behind most of it. Every key sales and division exec at Hansen is now a millionaire; often, many times over.

All that from one little can? Well, not entirely. The energy behind Monster Energy is Mark Hall, whose skill as a marketer and branding strategist helped Monster claw its way past the competition. Which is surprising in itself, because Hall, 51, is a mild-mannered executive whose smiles do not bear any obvious fangs.

“He’s the quiet giant,” said George Kalil, a major bottler whose market, Phoenix, was one of the first in which the Monster gored the Bull. Monster, said Kalil, is “still growing, and I have every confidence Mark will continue to bring things to the table.”

The table, of course, is the now rollicking field of energy drinks. And to many observers, what Red Bull, Rockstar, Adrenaline Rush, Whoopass and, of course, Monster are busy doing is nothing short of reinventing the carbonated soft-drink business for a new generation of thirsty consumers. “In convenience stores, the only people going to the fountain and pulling a Coke are old people,” Hall said flatly. “If we’ve been able do anything, it’s to make soft drinks cool for young people. Let’s be real: [energy drinks are] cool soft drinks.”

For the uninitiated few, “energy” for brews like Monster is not a new-age vibe; it means caffeine. As such, energy drinks-which some young people seem to like in lieu of a night’s sleep-have come under the fire of various health advocacy groups. (In point of fact, though, the 160mg of caffeine found in a 16-oz. can of Monster looks pretty tame compared to the 320mg you’ll gulp down in the same-sized cup of Starbucks drip coffee.) Controversy aside, it’s clear that energy drinks’ cool factor is one thing that’s beyond dispute.

Hall’s an unlikely guy to be sitting in the president’s chair of Hansen’s Monster Beverage Division. Even though he holds a B.S. in biology, chemistry and education, his teaching career ended when he decided he hated kids, and Hall ended up on the slopes as a full-time ski bum.

Skiing ended when the phone rang one day. It was a college buddy name Don Klopcic.His family had picked up a lucrative Budweiser distributorship in Grand Rapids, Mich., and was looking for someone to keep an eye on their sleepy “all-other” house in Pontiac populated with a mishmash of imports like Heineken and also-ran brands like Blatz.