One Monday last October, in his home overlooking the Pacific Ocean south of Los Angeles, Mark Rampolla’s phone rang repeatedly and emails flooded his inbox. Word had leaked over the weekend that Coca-Cola was discontinuing Zico, the coconut water brand Rampolla had sold to the beverage giant in 2013. Old friends and former colleagues wanted to know how he was taking the news.
The father of two daughters, Rampolla had often joked that Zico was his son. So he felt a twinge of sadness about the brand’s foundering under Coke’s leadership. But that emotion quickly changed to excitement and hope. The 51-year-old entrepreneur reached out to Coke’s mergers and acquisitions group right away, initiating what would become weeks of secret negotiations to reacquire Zico. On New Year’s Eve, Rampolla’s phone rang once again. That night, he celebrated not just the arrival of 2021 but also another chance to compete in the coconut water business.
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