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Originally published December 5, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 5, 2007 at 9:24 AM

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Jones Soda founder to step down on Dec. 31

Jones Soda founder Peter van Stolk will step down as the offbeat soda company's chairman and chief executive Dec. 31 to make way for a more...

Seattle Times business reporter

Jones Soda founder Peter van Stolk will step down as the offbeat soda company's chairman and chief executive Dec. 31 to make way for a more experienced management team, the company announced Tuesday evening.

The move comes four months after Jones Soda announced a 98 percent drop in its second-quarter profit and while its stock is trading near a 52-week low.

Van Stolk, 44, said in a telephone interview that he's not stepping down for those reasons.

"I didn't want to be one of these guys who hang on too long," van Stolk said. "As the company grows, different skills and requirements are needed to move the thing forward, and they aren't necessarily entrepreneurial skills."

Employees were throwing a party for him Tuesday evening at the company's headquarters in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood, and he said his departure comes as no surprise to them. "I've been saying that throughout the year if anybody asked me," he said.

Van Stolk will remain on the board of the beverage company he founded in Alberta, Canada, in 1987, and helped make famous with such flavors as strawberry manilow, and turkey and gravy. Board members ScottBedbury and Steve Jones will become interim chairman and CEO, respectively, while the company searches for a new CEO.

Bedbury is chief executive of Brandstream, an independent brand-development consulting firm. He was a marketing executive with Nike and Starbucks.

Jones has been chief marketing officer at Coca-Cola and CEO of Minute Maid.

"Steve has been a tremendous asset to our board and brings a wealth of operating, marketing and brand management to the CEO position at a key period for the company," Bedbury said in a statement issued Tuesday. "Moving from a niche player to a mainstream brand is a challenging time for any company."

Jones' stock fell 34 cents to $5.94 a share on Tuesday, then dropped another 7 cents to $5.87 in after-hours trading.

During the past year, shares have traded between $5.86 and $32.60.

In August, Jones blamed delays in getting its canned products onto retailers' shelves for a devastating 98 percent drop in second-quarter profit to $40,726, down from $2.3 million a year earlier.

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The company later became the target of shareholder lawsuits accusing it of failing to deliver on "bullish statements" about sales and distribution, allegations the company has denied.

Van Stolk said he would be leaving even if Jones weren't facing those problems.

"If the stock price was high, as it was before, I'd do it. It's the right thing to do for shareholders," he said.

He also said he doesn't believe he's made mistakes at the company, although he believes it will benefit from a more seasoned management team.

"I've done the right thing from [switching to] pure cane sugar to preparing the company for future growth," van Stolk said.

He is excited about participating in Jones' future as a director and about his plans to do charity work for groups such as Vitamin Angels, a California nonprofit that provides nutrition to families in need.

Van Stolk admitted feeling sad but said he's doing the right thing for the company.

"I've only worked for one company, so as you can probably hear by my voice, I've never resigned from anything, so I feel old," he said. "But you can't hang on too long. That's the one thing I was concerned about."

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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