Owner Mike Repole and family members lead Stay Thirsty and jockey Roman Dominguez into the Winner’s Circle following the horse’s victory at the 2011 Gotham Stakes at
Aqueduct Race Track.
When Mike Repole began dating his wife, Maria, long before Vitaminwater, Coca-Cola and the multi-billion-dollar deal, he issued a playful warning to the Ridgewood native and fellow St. John’s University student.
“I hope you like roller coasters,” Repole said.
“Why?” Maria asked.
“Because being with me is going to be a roller coaster,” the Middle Village resident deadpanned to his future bride.
The same can be said for a conversation with Repole, 42, an ebullient soul who has applied the all-out approach he learned on the blacktops and fields of nearby Juniper Valley Park and Farmers Oval in Ridgewood to the boardrooms of corporate America.
“I really think that Queens competitiveness between kids, that drive to win, is the number one attribute that probably helped me be successful in life,” Repole said.
After selling Glaceau, the Whitestone-based company he co-founded that makes Vitaminwater, to the Coca-Cola Company in May 2007 for $4.1 billion, Repole invested in Energy Kitchen, a chain of fast-food restaurants that feature health-conscious meals at 500 calories or less, and became the chairman of Pirate Brands, which makes Pirate’s Booty snacks.
Not bad for a kid whose first job was stocking shelves at Key Food in Forest Hills for $3.35 an hour.
Success has not slowed Repole, and just a portion of his May schedule is a testament. He owns 82 race horses, two of which are likely headed, along with Repole and 100 of his closest family and friends, to next week’s 137th running of the Kentucky Derby. Uncle Mo is a favorite, and Stay Thirsty has a shot at making the Run for the Roses.
“I used to cut out of school and go down to Aqueduct or the Grand Avenue OTB,” Repole recalled. “To think that that 13-year-old kid from Queens is going to be on the national stage with two horses is a little overwhelming.”
A week after the May 7 derby, Repole returns to his roots, his alma mater St. John’s in Jamaica, to receive an honorary doctorate and deliver the commencement address to 5,000 candidates for graduation. Repole donned the cap and gown 20 years ago, finishing after five years with a less-than-stellar 2.2 grade point average and a degree in sports management.
“I was more interested in getting into the business world and the sports world than I was in the classroom,” Repole related, adding that his first report card consisted of one C, two Ds and two withdrawals. “But it was something I knew I had to figure out.”
Repole called the opportunity to share his story and inspire students “an honor” and “one of the biggest thrills of my life.”
But Repole’s post-college tale began as more everyman than chairman. He said his initial job out of St. John’s was “being retired for the first 18 months,” playing Nintendo until 5 in the morning. After watching his parents and younger brother, Gerard, go to work every day, Repole knew he had to do something. The St. Margaret’s and Holy Cross High School alum scored an internship in Christ the King’s athletic department as an assistant coach on various teams, and remembers being quite close to going into teaching as a profession before deciding to get into business.
Repole worked at Mystic Beverages, and later became vice president of Crystal Geyser Water. He co-founded Glaceau and started the decade-long march to the vitamin-infused gold rush, which came on May 25, 2007, the day Coke snatched up the company that counted borough stars 50 Cent and David Wright among its many investors.
“What was so special about that day was a lot of people won,” Repole said, before noting that 600 employees and 600 investors with stock options reaped the rewards of the sale. “That was our Super Bowl.”
Repole stayed on with Glaceau for 18 months after Coke acquired it. Looking back, he said “those 10 years went by like 10 minutes. I think I didn’t enjoy it as much because I didn’t know the ending of the book.”
He acknowledged how the grueling Glaceau journey forced him to miss quality time with friends and family, so Repole reported that these days he’s focusing more on giving back to the community and enjoying the moment.
“I don’t regret it, but I can tell you now I won’t sacrifice important dates in the future,” he said.
Though Repole now resides on Long Island, he emphasized Queens’ role in shaping his personality and path. From the boy who used to shop at Silver Barn, and run rampant on borough fields, to billion-dollar deals, he said he’s still “Mike from Queens.”
“At the end of the day, my core is still Queens,” Repole asserted. “It still has Queens all over it.”