Q&A with Kevin Rutherford, CEO of Nuun

How the fit business leader of a sports hydration company stays on top of innovation

In the realm of sports drinks, Nuun is on its way to hydrating well over two million athletes in 2018, a number which president and CEO Kevin Rutherford hopes to increase in the years to come. "The original consumer was the extreme endurance racer," he explains, but since then the brand has expanded to cater to everyone from the back of the pack to the front and all spots in between. “Our products are for every person striving to be healthier simply by moving more.”

Rutherford, who refers to his title as 'chief eternal optimist', is equally driven in his personal life. "I like to have new goals to keep myself on track so that I’m constantly improving,” he says. “This year, I’m training for the 70.3 triathlon distances with the ultimate goal of qualifying for the 2019 world championships in my age group.”

Here, Rutherford talks about how the sports nutrition industry is evolving and what makes a CEO successful.

Photos courtesy of innervoice.life

How has the sports drinks field evolved since its inception?

“Prior to Nuun, sports drinks were loaded with carbs and sugars combined with a few electrolytes. This is counter to what your body needs. We found that the best way to perform is to focus on optimal hydration first and fueling second, since combining the two in a sports beverage could negatively impact your performance and could result in adverse reactions like intestinal distress. That’s why we chose a recipe that has a complete electrolyte profile and eliminates the carbs, sugar, and artificial dyes and sweeteners your body doesn’t need.”

What will this space look like in five years?

“The driving forces of change will come from a few macro trends. The first is customization, moving away from the concept of one-product-fits-all and moving towards a marketplace where you can find a product for your specific needs. In the sports nutrition industry, I think it will become the norm to cater to a consumer's needs based on time of day, level of fitness, or performance goals, also taking into account gender. Second, there will be an emphasis on transparency from farm to water bottle. Take for example our upgrade in formulations that are certified non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free, and ‘safe for sport’ (no contaminates or banned substances). This is a higher cost business model but because the consumer places a value on this philosophy, we've seen faster growth. Third, I believe that sports drinks will no longer be dominated by single-use plastic bottles. Consumers will reuse their water bottle because it’s the right thing to do and because it’s a statement about their value of caring for our shared planet.”

What do you think successful CEOs have in common?

“They know that people are the difference maker. There is a saying that workplace culture eats strategy for breakfast. A powerful culture thrives on challenges while amplifying strengths. The best CEOs are obsessed with culture and have teams that feel the same way. They also recognize that transitioning from a manager to a leader means not only inspiring everyone around a vision for the company, but emphasizing constant communication. Having a clear purpose and aligned beliefs drive team performance and results, sustainably, over a long period of time. Choose to focus first on ‘doing the right thing’ versus ‘doing things right’.”

What’s next for Nuun?

“We want to inspire everyone to move more and play a bigger role in educating folks on proper hydration and nutrition. Further, we’ll keep improving our existing products as well as come out with new formulations (such as our latest immunity line) to help you be at your best. In essence, you can bet that we won’t be sitting still. There is much work to be done.”

Fitness vocab: ape index

Your training should depend in part on this measurement.

Worldly fitness feat: rowing across the Drake Passage

"Waves crashed over the boat, and the water was barely above freezing."