Features

Francis Massabki – Vital Pharmaceuticals

He brings a lot of bang for the legal buck

Francis Massabki says he knows how to deal with adversity.

“Overcoming professional challenges is not only rewarding,” he says. “It positions you well for future success.”

He’s also ready for a new challenge, having left his recent employer in December on good terms and better than he found it. As to where Massabki lands, he’ll weigh his options while deciding what’s best for him, his wife, their infant son and their Catahoula leopard rescue pup.

Ideally, Massabki wants a senior role where he can “help drive business projects.” While he’s practiced with firms and in-house, he prefers the latter—it allowing him to work closely with business teams while interfacing with upper-level management and executives. And much as he and his family have taken to Greater Miami, they have lived around the world and are open to new adventures anywhere.

“I’m industry and location agnostic,” he tells Vanguard in January. “I have significant experience in healthcare, technology, marketing and advertising, and consumer retail. Like a chameleon, I have a highly developed ability to handle a wide range of global commercial affairs.”

Energized from the start

His skills served him well during his more than four years as general counsel of Vital Pharmaceuticals, which operates as Bang Energy in Weston, Florida. While he had overseen legal departments at other companies, Massabki had to assemble one at Vital/Bang where he experienced all the highs and lows of an ambitious operation in a highly competitive, relatively nascent industry.

Massabki joined Vital/Bang as associate general counsel in October 2018 and was promoted to general counsel in January 2020. To keep up with “hypergrowth,” he rounded up what he calls a legal “dream team,” growing it in three years from two to a dozen-plus lawyers and five paralegals and support staff.

The larger team was a necessary and cost-effective investment, he explains. A functional energy drink is more complex than a cola and thus subject to more stringent regulations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission. The same held true for the company’s fat-burning supplements. Then Vital/Bang introduced alcoholic and cannabidiol products—highly regulated products with their own unique compliance regimes.

Massabki also oversaw a digital marketing and advertising network with thousands of contracted influencers and brand ambassadors located worldwide.

A stickler for rules, Massabki had his legal team poring over labeling and other regulations in all U.S. states and 38 countries where Vital/Bang products were available in approximately 200,000 brick-and-mortar and online retailers, including bellwethers Walmart, Target, Costco, Amazon, Kroger, CVS and 7-Eleven. Because the company relied on a host of vendors, Massabki also implemented contract management, legal ticketing systems and other process improvements.

“By now I had become a generalist,” he says. “I had been a specialist in many areas—litigation, technology, transactions, operations—and we were doing all of that and then some at Vital/Bang.”

That included mitigating certain unpleasantries.

A historic deal gone sour

For Vital/Bang to grow, it needed strong partners, which it first found with hundreds of distributors at beer behemoth Anheuser-Busch. Then, in August 2020, a partnership with PepsiCo seemed to make more sense and an exclusive agreement was inked, one of the largest ever in the beverage industry.

By year’s end, however, Vital/Bang cited foul play, and the issues went to arbitration and the courts. Last June, Massabki and his PepsiCo counterpart hammered out a confidential settlement allowing Vital/Bang to seal deals with an independent network of 250-plus distributors mostly from the Anheuser-Busch system.

Concurrently, Massabki leveraged his litigation and litigation-management skills when a competitor, Monster Beverage, sued Vital/Bang.

“As you ascend the corporate mountain, it gets windier at the top,” says Massabki, referring to the competitive and infrastructure pressures of being the fastest growing brand in the U.S. non-alcoholic beverage industry in 2018, and the world’s third-best selling energy drink last year.

Despite initial M&A activities to secure debt financing or an equity investment, he saw a Chapter 11 proceeding as the best option while transitioning to new distributors and continuing day-to-day operations. It was all part of a dynamic role following his experiences in private law and a general counsel position with startup liquor distiller São Spirits from 2008 to 2009.

“There too I wore all hats,” he says about leading the entire legal function and helping bring products to market from inception to commercialization.

When the Great Recession arrived, Massabki became a senior associate at the Florida firm of Genovese Joblove & Battisa (now part of Venable) from 2009 to 2012. A few years later he took a similar role at Fuerst Ittleman David & Joseph and, in 2015, ran his own firm, managing 15 contract attorneys, before joining Vital/Bang in 2018.

He really means business

Private practice did much to shape his skills. He advised companies in all industries, but satisfying as it was, it still wasn’t like being in-house.

Massabki, after all, had been business-minded before law school and even was leaning toward business school. He took five years after graduating from the University of Virginia before returning there for law school. An economics major and foreign affairs minor as an undergrad, he had enhanced his international credentials with advanced degrees at Sevilla University in Spain and the European Institute (CIFE), focusing on international business and EU law.

He also worked on high-level international matters at Skadden Arps, the American Bar Association, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“Those years between undergrad and law school were very well spent,” he says. “I got real-time international business experience as well as specialized academic learning.”

The stars weren’t always aligned early in his career. Silicon Valley was an early attraction but the tech bubble burst around the time he was handed his juris doctorate in Charlottesville. Rather than going in-house at an up-and-coming dotcom, he served corporate clientele at Zuckerman Spaeder from 2004 to 2008.

His wife being established in the medical device industry with Boston Scientific, they comprise a power couple ready for whatever comes next. And as Massabki thrived in his fast-paced role at Vital/Bang, he rarely needed a boost from the company’s products.

A college-athlete and avid multi-tasker, “I’m so naturally energized I don’t even need caffeine,” he says, “though I do love chocolate.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Winter IV 2023 Edition here.

Published on: March 2, 2023

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