Rogan Donelly, President of Tervis, featured in Conversation with a CEO
By Keith Morelli
TAMPA (October 28, 2020) -- Being the president of Tervis, a leader in the business of beverage containers, Rogan Donelly does not let that alone define who he is.
When he is not developing new lines of products, new streams of revenue, holding town hall meetings with 500 employees of the three-generational, family-owned business or warding off other companies trying to make incursions in his market niche, Donelly is on a boat heading into the Gulf of Mexico on a spearfishing trip. Or he is camping. Or he is kibitzing with his German shepherd, Fritz, an unofficial mascot of the company.
Or the 35-year-old exec is producing a movie. Or he is visiting the White House. Or he is mentoring youths in Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Or he is … well you get the idea. With all that young life lived to the fullest, his number-one job now is to carry on the family tradition of Tervis, while implementing innovations aimed at keeping the company on top for decades – and maybe generations – to come.
Donelly, a 2018 graduate of the Muma College of Business’ Executive MBA program, was the guest at the Conversation with a CEO on Nov. 3. The format – the first on a virtual platform because of the COVID-19 threat – featured Donelly and business college Dean Moez Limayem chatting about Donelly’s life, career and responsibilities as the latest Donelly in charge of the company that purchased by his grandfather, John C. Winslow, who passed it on to Donelly’s father, Norbert, in the 1980s. Rogan Donelly was named president four years ago. To view a video of the event, click here.
Initially, he was not sure he wanted to continue the family succession.
“Hats off to my parents, they didn’t pressure me, didn’t try to decide my destiny,” Donelly said. “They let me make my own decisions. When I graduated college, I wanted to do my own thing. I was grateful and fortunate to have this great opportunity, but I wanted to be independent.”
He worked for a while for Bank of America in Boston, but his path eventually led back to Sarasota County.
“At the end of the day, through my own experiences, I saw that to make the biggest and most effective impact and to have the most success was here,” he said. “It was like a lightbulb clicked on, a no brainer, a fantastic opportunity.”
The Biggest Challenge: COVID-19
“Well, we’re still in business,” he said. “April was nerve-wracking and our sales were down to almost zero. We took a complete hit.”
But, with the help of the federal government’s Payroll Protection Plan, the company was able to continue issuing paychecks to furloughed employees.
“We used that money for everything we were supposed to,” he said. “We were a textbook example of how it should be done.” Tervis shut down, but during that time, Donelly noted orders coming in from an unexpected source. “Web sales actually were going through the roof, showing a new way people were shopping. Within a week of that, we pulled in a skeleton crew whose only responsibility was to sell our product to a new breed of consumers. Web retail customers.”
For more than seven decades, Tervis tumblers have kept hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold and have come in thousands of designed logos from universities, professional sports, Disney, Marvel and the military. Customers visiting the company's website also can design their own products with personal photos. It is a real family-owned success story with 500 employees who work in a 90,000-square-foot plant just off Interstate 75 south of Venice. It has always been in the backdrop of Donelly’s life. He has worked in every department, from sales and marketing to promotions and he even put time in on the production line as a middle school student.
In 2008, he became a member of the board and in 2009, Donelly moved back to Sarasota to serve as principal of Tervis before he became president in 2016, becoming the third generation to lead the business.
Tervis recently veered from a tried-and-true formula and opened up a new line of products. In 2016, he noticed another product cutting into the market: stainless steel cups and tumblers. He saw the challenge as an opportunity.
“The competition came on strong, and it took some of our market,” Donelly said. “But, they also created a new market for us. The proof was in consumer preferences. Consumers wanted stainless steel and we recognized that. It was a huge investment and a huge change for us, but we already had great distribution channels, brand awareness and consumer loyalty.”
It took some convincing of the board, but he and his executive leadership team – a team he assembled after becoming president – presented analytics that made a strong case.
“I have a ton of trust and respect for my C-suite leadership team,” he said. “Some of them have careers longer than I have been alive. Our shared goal is to be very transparent and communicative. They have the best for the business in mind and a shared responsibility to our employees and consumers.
“From this team,” he said, “I’m always learning.”
Besides an Executive MBA degree, Donelly received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Bowdoin College in Maine in 2008 and a graduate certificate in business administration from Northeastern University in Boston in 2009.
Community Engagement, Environmental Protection
He is active in the community, serving as a board member of the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County, as a trustee of Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, as a director at Gulfside Bank, as a member of the Class of Leadership Florida Cornerstone XXXVII and as a mentor at Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
He visited the White House to meet the president as a representative of the state of Florida’s manufacturers and served on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Task Force: Industry Working Group to reopen the state during the 2019 COVID-19 pandemic.
He is on the USF 2020 Outstanding Young Alumni list, and 40 Under 40 lists compiled by the Gulf Coast Business Review and the Tampa Bay Business Journal, which also named him among the 2019 Influencers: Rising Stars.
An outdoors enthusiast, he set the vision for a future of sustainable plastics that will help reduce waste in the planet’s oceans.
His company is a member of PrAna Living’s Responsible Packaging Movement, committing to eliminate single-use plastic and virgin forest fiber from its packaging, and FORCE BLUE’s coral reef restoration project. Tervis created a limited edition “FORCE BLUE/100 Yards of Hope” stainless steel bottle and all proceeds go to support efforts to preserve and restore Florida’s coral reef.
“We are walking the walk,” he said, “not just talking the talk.”
Donelly is where he wants and needs to be for the next 20, 30 years, or longer.
“I certainly would like to be here, to grow my team and to grow the success of Tervis, to meet new challenges” he said. “The market changed so much over the past five years. It is great to get some stability in the marketplace. I would love for this company to last another 75 years with myself or another family member at the helm. But, right now, I am happy doing what I am doing.”