Manoj Bhargava

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Manoj Bhargava

It's a dream for many, but it's real life for Manoj Bhargava, 61, and 5-Hour Energy.

The son of a college professor, Bhargava moved to the U.S. at age 14 from Lucknow, India.

He didn't follow the path of academia like his father. Instead, he dropped out of business school at Princeton University after one year to pursue life experiences and feed his entrepreneurial drive.

He opted for a string of odd jobs such as driving a cab, laying bricks and driving a dump truck.
In 1990, he came across a company for sale that produced vinyl strapping for outdoor furniture. Because he was able to negotiate a sale price that was less than the amount of money that could be generated by selling the assets, he was able to find a bank willing to back him.

He turned the company around and parlayed that into the acquisition of another company in the plastics supply chain, Prime PVC Inc. in Marion, Ind. When he built the firm to $25 million in sales in 2000, he retired. He sold it in 2006.

After "failing at retirement," as he terms it, he set out looking for new ideas and inventions that needed his business acumen.

Eventually he found the idea of 5-Hour Energy at a trade show and added the innovation of putting it into the smaller 2-ounce bottle rather than the larger bottles of other energy drinks. The drink is a brand manufactured and distributed by parent company Living Essentials LLC, based in Farmington Hills.

"Where do you want to compete?" he asked in a past Crain's interview. "In the beverage cooler with some of the best-known brands on Earth, or next to the cash register with the key chains?"

He opted for the latter. In 2013, retail sales of 5-Hour Energy grossed $1.2 billion, Bhargava said.

Charity is also a priority for him. He's taken Warren Buffett's "Giving Pledge," vowing to give 50 percent of his wealth to charity.

Bhargava's roots play a large role in his current philanthropy strategy. Through an India-based organization called the Hans Foundation, he donates to charities throughout India. His focus is the country's Uttarakhand state, which he has "adopted." He works closely with the government and people in that area.

The goal for his giving, much like the goal for running his company, is to "be useful."

"The jargon of philanthropy is sustainability," he said. "Things don't need to be sustainable; people just need to be helped. If I am poor, if I am starving, I might be dead by tomorrow, I need help today.

"What we need to do is go to them, ask them what they need, and find a way to give it to them."

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