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The "Lizard King" is Crowned

The "Lizard King" is CrownedSoBe founder and Tufts grad John Bello was just named Retail Entrepreneur of the Year -- the latest crowning achievement of the self-proclaimed "Lizard King." Palm Springs, Calif.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [11.29.01] Seven years after founding the South Beach Beverage Company [SoBe], John Bello has proven once again that he has the magic touch. In just the last 12 months, the 1968 Tufts graduate orchestrated a major deal between SoBe and Pepsi worth over $370 million and was named Entrepreneur of the Year for the retail industry by Ernst and Young.

"My whole thing in life is 'let's win,' and you win by having fun at what you do," Bello told Ernst and Young's magazine. "[SoBe's employees] live by a pretty simple motto: Make a little money, have a little fun."

Bello, called the "Lizard King" by SoBe's employees, has had a lot of success doing both.

Founded in 1995, SoBe broke ranks with traditional beverage companies by producing an entire line of "health refreshment" drinks -- something never tried by the industry's leaders.

"Consumers are a lot more sophisticated than many believe," Bello told Ernst and Young. "They recognize that maybe the carbonated soft drinks they've been drinking aren't necessarily that great for them. If you can deliver something that can refresh, while at the same time deliver benefits in the form of nutrients, like calcium and vitamin C, that they know they need but don't get in their daily diet, why not?"

Today, the category is the fastest growing part of the market and SoBe's nutrient-enhanced drinks are leading the way.

SoBe's unique line of drinks, combined with its unconventional grassroots marketing strategy based on SoBe's Lizard logo, helped the company establish a reputation that stands out from the crowd.

That's a position Bello is used to.

To win the Entrepreneur of Year honor, the Tufts grad had to beat out 5,600 nominations from around the country.

Ernst and Young's executives have given out the award for the last 15 years, and say they are "bestowed on individual entrepreneurs whose ingenuity, hard work and perseverance have created and sustained successful, growing business ventures."

SoBe's growth and success with Bello at the helm was a natural fit for the award.

It's not the first time the Tufts graduate has proven his talent for giving companies a big boost. For 14 years, Bello helped market the National Football League, eventually spending five years as president of NFL Properties, where he turned the league's product line into a billion-dollar revenue stream.

Earlier this year, Pepsi hoped to tap into Bello's success by striking a major deal with SoBe. The international beverage corporation acquired Bello's company in the hopes SoBe's innovative line of teas would boost Pepsi's sagging sales.

"Pepsi recognized when they bought us how unique we are," Bello -- a history major while at Tufts -- told Ernst and Young. "And they've really gone out of their way to allow us to maintain that individuality."

According to Bello, there's nothing magic about SoBe's success -- just a lot of hard work with some fun mixed in.

"I'm called the Lizard King, because I'm running the place," he said. "But I see myself more as the Lizard of Oz. Don't look behind the curtain, because what you'll find is this ordinary guy in the back of the room pushing buttons."

Images courtesy of SoBe Beverages

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