Alumni Spotlight

Erich Bell

Chief Executive Officer, Kingsley Beverages USA, Inc.
Rice University – Jones Graduate School of Business
TBHF Scholar Award Recipient, 2002

Houston


So far in your career, you’ve had a wide variety of experiences and roles. What has motivated you to explore such a wide scope of industries and was that an intentional career choice or has it happened by circumstance? 

Looking back, there were definitely some opportunities that presented themselves, but it was mostly intentional. I have always been very curious by nature, and I get bored if I’m not presented with challenges. I like puzzles and solving problems.

After college, I accepted a job in San Antonio doing accounting and tax work. But after about two years, I felt I needed change and started looking for my next opportunity. I ended up accepting an offer and in my next role got to travel all over the world, visiting 25 countries. It challenged me and inspired me to take the next step in my career,  which ultimately led me to returning to school.

I went to Rice looking to meet people and figure out what I wanted to do next. During my time at Rice I was a teaching assistant and student newspaper editor. Experimenting with those different roles got me thinking about career paths I might like to explore outside of the accounting world. I learned about private equity through a classmate and was intrigued. A private equity company that had done some work with Rice was looking to bring on new team members. They liked my background and it resulted in my first role in the P.E. sector.

My CPA and MBA background really helped me in private equity space and afforded me the opportunity to move up and take on roles of increasing responsibility. However, after several years working in private equity, I felt that familiar desire for something new and challenging. A friend of mine had done some contract work with Kingsley. They were looking for someone with a unique background. Because of my finance and international experience, I ended up being a good fit for the role. This role has been great for me because it combines my interests and skill set with my previous experience.  

You majored in accounting at UT Austin before getting your MBA at Rice, where you were selected as a Future Texas Business Legend Award recipient. Why did you want to study accounting and how do you think that has influenced your career trajectory?

There were a few reasons I chose to pursue accounting. I like numbers and I always have. It also didn’t hurt that as I was preparing to graduate, I remember seeing that accounting had one of the higher salaries.

As a student I had the opportunity to visit and tour a few companies through recruiters. I remember one of the companies saying, “accounting is the language of business.” That piqued my interest.  In my experience, that has been true and in all my roles, accounting has served as a helpful foundation.

Understanding cash flow, transactions, and budgets helps you understand how other areas of a business function. And so when I started looking for those new challenges and opportunities later on in my career, it was easy to build on my existing skillset and knowledge.

You joined Kingsley Beverages in May 2020 as CEO. How did your previous experiences prepare you for this role and influence your leadership style? 

I’ve learned that I enjoy the tangible aspects of leadership. I like getting my hands on things, working directly with products and people. My previous experiences taught me how to work with people at every level and role within the company. It taught me to value the input and diversity of colleagues and employees. Being able to work with people all across the globe has been extremely important in my role here at Kingsley. Working with people in different time zones, people who speak different languages or have different cultural customs, has made me a better listener and a better communicator. I’ve had to get comfortable with not always having all the answers immediately.

Something that really came to the forefront during Covid, was flexibility. Even prior to the pandemic, I was a big proponent of having flexible schedules and allowing work from home. Allowing employees flexibility goes a long way towards motivation.

Also, having worked at numerous companies, I’ve seen first-hand what happens when a business operates with honesty and communication, and what happens when they don’t. I believe in sharing the wealth and successes of the company with the people who work there. As a leader, you want to set an expectation for greatness. And that starts by modeling and leading that behavior.

Kingsley is an international company. As part of the company’s global growth and expansion into the US market, they chose to set up operations Texas. In your words, why do you think Texas is good for business? 

The story of how Kingsley came to choose Texas is quite interesting. A Houston businessman traveled to South Africa for safari and asked for an energy drink. Kingsley produces Dragon Energy, the most popular energy drink brand in South Africa. This businessman really loved the product and wanted to find a way to bring it into Houston.

The owners of Kingsley ended up visiting Houston and loved the city. Texas has great people, and in my opinion, the nicest people. We are a diverse and entrepreneurial-minded state where people work hard. We are business-friendly and open to new ideas.

One of TBHF’s core values is excellence. How do you define “excellence” in business?

Excellence is doing right for your employees, who will then do right for your customers.  Excellence is not about the individual. To be excellent you need to take a long-term approach and put yourself in other’s shoes. Considering other people’s motivations and helping them reach their goals will in turn help the business succeed. It means excellence for everyone.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of being part of the TBHF organization? 

Inspirational people and new ideas. I consider myself a lifelong learner. It’s inspiring to hear new ideas, learn about new businesses, and see people coming together with shared interests, looking to help one another and offer support. Business leaders and innovators taking their time to share insights, host events, and offer advice is really inspiring.

To learn more about Kingsley, please visit https://kingsleybeverages.com/usa.  You can follow Kinglsey on Facebook here.