Interviewed by Gregory Jones
Reliv International Inc. is many things to many people — including second-generation president Ryan A. Montgomery, who uses the company’s products daily. To customers, Reliv is a line of effective nutritional supplements from patented scientific formulas. To independent distributors, it’s a business opportunity to sell those products to customers and sponsor other distributors.
Many distributors begin as Reliv customers. In fact, not even the co-founders were looking to start a business when they found the product. Robert L. Montgomery had retired early to focus on raising three kids with his wife Sandy.
At a nutrition convention in 1982, Bob met Dr. Ted Kalogris, a microbiologist who patented a formula of vitamins, minerals, herbs and proteins that he blended into a powder for himself. He shared his formula with the Montgomery family and other friends, who experienced remarkable health results.
“The results we had as a family became the inspiration to start this company,” says Ryan, who was 15 in October 1988 when his parents founded Reliv in Decatur, Illinois, and later moved to Chesterfield, Missouri, west of St. Louis. “It wasn’t necessarily because my dad wanted to start a company. Reliv started because he had a product he absolutely believed in.”
Fueled by an aging population and, amidst rising health care costs, an increased focus on preventive maintenance, Reliv grew significantly. Through a network of more than 50,000 independent distributors in 16 countries, Reliv sells an evolving line of nutritional supplements and related products.
But when Montgomery became president in July 2012, he knew he couldn’t rest on the company’s past success to keep growing Reliv into the second generation. While the core concept of Distributors First is still the cornerstone, Montgomery knew that continued growth and success would require building onto the foundations.
“Sometimes, your past success can be the biggest challenge,” Montgomery says. “In other words, we’ve done many things over 26 years that have worked, and that’s great, but it’s easy for all of us to become comfortable with the way things are done. We have to continue to improve, to innovate, to be cutting edge. We have to stay curious and not only competitive, but ahead of the competition.”
Here’s how Reliv plans to build upon its foundation of success to pursue new opportunities to grow the company — which just celebrated 26 years in business.
The business of family
Operating a family business — not to mention a multi-family business — has its benefits. Montgomery works closely with his father, who is chairman and CEO, and his brother R. Scott Montgomery, who is president of Reliv Asia-Pacific. His father’s partner, Vice Chairman and Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Carl Hastings, also has two sons in the company’s management team: Steve Hastings, executive vice president of sales and marketing, and Brett Hastings, senior vice president and chief operating officer.
Having a clear family succession plan was key to grooming future leaders. Growing up in the business with shared values ensured that Reliv’s legacy would live on with consistency.
“It’s been part of the succession plan for a number of years,” says Montgomery, part of a second-generation team with increasing responsibility. “Growing up in Reliv has prepared us. If we want this company to have longevity, it’s important to maintain the core values that were started 26 years ago.”
With the trust of tens of thousands of independent distributors on the line, a smooth leadership transition was crucial.
“That’s one of our strengths as a family business,” Montgomery says. “We’re so close that we’re kind of a known quantity. The distributors, in a lot of cases, have taught us and grown up with us.”
Maintaining relationships with distributors was — and is — the main objective through every step. By focusing on Distributors First as a common goal and guiding principle, Reliv keeps its sights set on the big picture. It is a partnership between the company and its distributors.
“This company is not about me, or my brother or the Hastings brothers. This is a lot bigger than any one of us,” Montgomery says. “In a family business, things aren’t always perfect, but we just stay above it and realize there’s a bigger picture. If we do our job to help distributors become successful, then everyone prospers. Reliv is special because we succeed together and celebrate together with our distributors.”
Reliv’s commitment to Distributors First never fades. But over time, the ways that Reliv facilitates relationships with customers and distributors has to stay relevant amidst change.
“Core values and principles — those never change,” Montgomery says. “But there are some things that you have to stay modern with, or else you’re not relevant anymore. That has been our biggest opportunity — taking a business model and improving upon it and innovating to stay current.”
For example, Reliv’s distributors traditionally delivered products to customers and sponsored other distributors directly in face-to-face transactions. But, without sacrificing that personal experience, Reliv realized new opportunities for distributors and customers to connect online through personal websites, social media and e-commerce.
“We don’t want to lose face-to-face contact,” Montgomery says, explaining that it’s not an either/or situation, but an extension. “You still want to maintain that relationship, but how can we take advantage of technology that is available today?”
Leveraging new channels, Reliv stays current in the way it connects with distributors and customers. Meanwhile, the research and development team explores ways to enhance the product line — which has been issued nine patents and counting. To contend with the energy drink craze several years ago, for example, Reliv developed its first liquid supplement called 24K.
The company doesn’t launch new products frequently. With 15 nutritional supplements and five skin care products, its product line is smaller than many companies. In fact, more than 40 percent of Reliv’s net product sales come from just two products — Reliv Now and LunaRich X.
“When distributors sign up with Reliv, we keep the decisions and options simple,” Montgomery says. “We maintain an easy entry point for people to get started on one or two essential products. Then we have a dozen other targeted solutions you can choose to add.”
In search of innovative technologies to enhance its product line, Reliv announced a joint research and development partnership with Soy Labs LLC and the Missouri Plant Science Center in August 2011. Using cutting-edge biotechnology, the team studied an ingredient called lunasin, which scientists identified as the key to many of soy’s health benefits. By January 2012, the partnership developed a lunasin-packed soy powder trademarked as LunaRich.
“Our distributor field really embraced it,” Montgomery says. “We wanted to grab a hold of this and make it our own. We felt so strong about our association with Soy Labs that we acquired and incorporated this technology into our product line as a top priority.”
In July 2013, Reliv acquired an exclusive license for Soy Labs’ intellectual property and patents related to lunasin, and integrated several of Soy Lab’s leaders. As a result, LunaRich is now in seven different Reliv products and has redefined the way Reliv markets its nutritional formulas.
Montgomery knows that Reliv can’t rest on its laurels by relying entirely on its original business model. To continue the company’s track record of success, he and his team have to uphold Reliv’s founding principles while fostering innovation to improve.
“If you do become complacent and rest on your laurels, then companies will pass you by,” Montgomery says. “If you’re not staying curious and relevant in where the world is going, you’re going to get passed by. We have a product that’s good, but how can we make it better? How can we make our service to our distributors even better?”
By constantly striving to improve Reliv’s service and product mix, Montgomery seeks to help Reliv build the future on the strengths and foundations of the past. To do that, he says Reliv must branch out and develop additional ways to help distributors build their businesses.
“The things that got us here today aren’t necessarily going to be those that take us where we want to go,” Montgomery says. “I’m not talking about core values and principles; I’m talking about ways we can improve upon the foundation to remain relevant.”
- Focus on the big picture through common goals and guiding principles.
- Stay relevant by embracing innovative technologies to enhance core products.
- Don’t rest on the laurels of past success.
The Montgomery File
Name: Ryan A. Montgomery
Company: Reliv International Inc.
Born: Decatur, Illinois — the heart of soybean country
Education: Vanderbilt University, bachelor’s degree in economics; Saint Louis University, juris doctor.
Work history: When I got out of law school, I joined the law firm that took care of Reliv’s business and spent 75 percent of my time on Reliv affairs. In 2003, I became full-time in Reliv’s sales department. In July 2012, I was promoted to president.
Role model: My dad (Reliv Founder Robert Montgomery) has always been my role model, as a person and as a professional.
Hobbies: Golfing, fly-fishing and coaching my kids’ teams and staying fit by running, weightlifting and swimming.
What are your favorite Reliv products?
I take all of them, but my essential products right now are Reliv Now and LunaRich X.
I have taken Reliv products for years — even before Reliv was started. It was 1982, I was 9 years old, when my father met Dr. Ted Kalogris, the microbiologist who developed a patented formula that became the foundation for Reliv Classic. Until my father founded the company in 1988, we consumed that product ourselves, along with our closest friends and family. It was the results we had as a family that became the inspiration for my parents to start this company.
What is the best business advice you ever received?
The advice that comes from my father and that we all live by at Reliv: If you help enough other people get what they want, you’ll get everything that you want. It’s not about me; it’s about helping other people get what they’re wanting out of life, whether it’s through our products or through this business opportunity. If we do that, we’re all going to be financially successful and personally fulfilled.