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Taking the Bull by the Horns

This EIU alumnus introduced Red Bull — and its extreme sports
marketing — to the United States

Jack Dadam '65 brought Red Bull to the United States in 1997.

Few businessmen have energized Americans the way Jack Dadam '65 has. 

After all, Dadam is the man responsible for bringing Red Bull, the country's highest-selling energy drink, to the United States in 1997.

As if that weren't enough, for the next 10 years, he helped the company come up with some of its adrenaline-inducing publicity stunts that took product marketing to a whole new level.

The business skills that made him a success were honed at Eastern Illinois University, where he learned the importance of networking, opening the right doors and preparing for opportunities.

After graduating from EIU with a political science degree, Dadam successfully sought a job at Procter and Gamble, a company he targeted because wanted to learn from one of the best in the business.

After two years there, he was wooed away by E & J Gallo Winery, one of the largest privately owned companies in the U.S. From 1969 through his retirement in 1990, his titles included vice president of sales and vice president of marketing. Even then, Dadam was plotting his next challenge.

"I always had in the back of my mind I wanted to start my own business," Dadam said.

In January 1990, he took that step, starting the North American Beverage Co., an import/export company. His work took him all over the world.

"I was on a business trip, and I saw this tiny can selling like hell in Switzerland," Dadam said. "Then I saw it in Belgium, then in the United Kingdom."

It was around 1995, and everywhere he looked, sales of that tiny can -- containing an energy drink called Red Bull -- were booming. Everywhere, that is, except the United States, where it hadn't been introduced yet. And that's when Dadam saw opportunity staring him in the face.

Dadam arranged a meeting with Dietrich Mateschitz, the owner of Red Bull -- a privately owned company in Austria -- and pitched the idea of expanding the drink's market to the U.S. However, Mateschitz turned it down, as the company was too small to meet the demand they expected to face. The company was already selling $85 million worth of product in Europe with only 20 or 30 employees.

A couple of years later -- on April 7, 1997, a date time-stamped into Dadam's memory -- Dadam received a phone call that would transform his business and the drinking habits of millions of Americans. Red Bull was ready to hit the United States.

Dadam became the first Red Bull distributor in the U.S., selling and delivering the beverage to stores in California, Arizona and Utah from his distributorship in Santa Cruz, Calif.

"I actually delivered the first case of Red Bull in the United States out of the trunk of my car. My wife and I were the employees."

3D Distribution -- now under the leadership of his three sons -- now employs about 150 people and records $100 million per year in sales.

After three years, Dadam became a co-CEO of Red Bull. Operations were based in Santa Monica; the other two co-CEO's moved there from Austria.

The genius of Red Bull's marketing lies in its effective use of what the industry calls "below-the-line" marketing -- promotions involving crowd-pleasing antics, such as outlandish performances by extreme athletes.

Dadam adopted many of the marketing tactics Red Bull used in Europe, adapting them to better suit the American audience.

Dadam's favorite is the Flugtag, which Red Bull introduced the U.S. Participants make their own flying machines and launch them off of ramps into water, attempting to reach record heights. The first U.S. Flugtag, held in San Francisco, brought a crowd of 500,000. Flugtags in other U.S. cities recorded similar crowds.

Under Dadam's leadership, Red Bull also hosted the first U.S. Fat Tire event, in which the best mountain bikers in the world competed in a televised downhill race at Lake Tahoe.

This past New Year's Eve, two Red Bull-sponsored athletes -- freestyle motocross star Robbie Maddison and freestyle snowmobile wizard Levi Lavallee -- made simultaneous record-setting jumps on a motorcycle and snowmobile as fans watched live on ESPN.

An upcoming high-profile Red Bull stunt involves Felix Baumgardner, who is currently getting massive publicity (including an interview with David Letterman) for his upcoming "space jump," in which he plans to skydive from 120,000 feet (nearly 23 miles) this summer. His previous records in the world of BASE jumping (in which athletes jump off of tall objects and parachute down) include completing a freefall flight across the English Channel using a carbon wing.

"He's the guy who threw me off a bridge while BASE jumping," said Dadam, explaining that he, too, has gotten into some of the extreme sports he helps spotlight, giving him the perk of hanging out with some of extreme sports' biggest names, including snowboarder Shaun White, motorcycle rider Travis Pastrana, and race car driver Robby Gordon.

The offbeat marketing ploys have obviously worked. Today, Red Bull sells $5 billion in more than 100 countries; $3 billion of that is from the United States alone. To put Red Bull's U.S. success in perspective, consider that, in terms of dollar sales, it outsells even Coca-Cola products in convenience stores.

Dadam retired from Red Bull in 2007 and handed the bulk of the distributorship work over to his sons. This leaves him more time for fishing, hunting, paragliding, race-car driving and whatever else strikes his fancy.

If that all seems like a lot of activity for retirement, remember that Dadam isn't one for just sitting around and drinking coffee or tea.

"I drink three or four sugar-free Red Bulls a day," Dadam said. "It works."

(c) 2012 Eastern Illinois Alumni magazine. Used with permission.

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