Thirst Quenchers Alumni Trio Leads Niagara Bottling

Dawn Shelton (90)

There’s something in the water at Niagara Bottling Company. 

That something has drawn three OC alumni to the successful company and propelled it to even more success.

Bill Hall (96), Jay Hanan (97), and Jim Utley (94) are OC engineering graduates. One by one, they all joined Niagara – a company that manufactures approximately 35 percent of the bottled water in the United States. 

So for the job seekers among us … they plan to hire up to 1,000 more people in the next year or so. What if they’re all OC alumni? 

We want someone with high ethics, a strong ability to learn, and a drive to win. OC alumni can usually check the boxes on these traits. Jim Utley
The story of Bill, Jay, and Jim at Niagara is a case in point of how our friendships, talents, and connections pay off in the job market and life. 

Bill joined Niagara first in 2004, hired by the Peykoff family, who founded the company in the 1960s. 

Bill began as a plant manager and when the company expanded to the second and third plant, he began aggressively recruiting Jay and Jim. 

He was elevated to executive vice president, responsible for manufacturing at 20 sites.

“I guess I’m smart enough to know that you need as many smart people as you can find when you are growing a company, and these two were some of the best I had ever met,” said Bill, who lives in California with his wife Lara. She owns a Pilates and yoga studio, and the couple rescues, trains, and fosters dogs.

Jay Hanan, also in California, is the director of research and development. He remembers when he was finishing up his majors in chemistry and engineering physics in 1997 that Dr. Len Feuerhelm encouraged him to consider grad school. 

With three days to go, he emailed his application to Caltech, and got into the Materials Science program.

He is a songleader at Sierra Madre Church of Christ and has two kids. 

“One is a successful professional actress. The other is a smart young man who believes he will achieve his dreams, inspired by his loving sister,” he said. 

Jim Utley didn’t get to Niagara until 2011. He still lives in Blanchard, Oklahoma, with wife Julie (Begin 94) and three kids. He offices in Dallas and travels 60 percent of the time. Jim is Niagara’s director of technical services.   

Despite a little ribbing from Jay and Bill, Jim embraced the role of being the most verbose of the three during our email exchanges for this story. But in fairness, Jay was in China and trying to reply while riding in taxis.

When it comes to hiring, Jim says they seek out OC alumni. 

“When we look for people at Niagara, we are looking for a fit,” Jim said. “We want someone with high ethics, solid ability to learn, and a drive to win. When we find these people, we know they can be successful at Niagara. OC alumni can usually check the boxes on these traits.”

He knows from experience; when he hired 78 interns in a previous job, 47 of them were from OC.

“I saw a pattern. The OC students were willing to learn from any situation, not minding if the work was tedious or hard or dirty or thankless. They all engaged and viewed every challenge as an opportunity to learn,” Jim said. “I am proud that both Bill and Jay were interns in my program.”

Active in campus life back in the day, Jim looks back fondly at those transformative years.

“I had so many great professors, it’s hard to single them out. Drs. (Jerald) Parker and (Jim) Cutbirth persuaded me not to give up on being an engineer, teaching me that grit is more valuable than brains in many cases, and Dr. (Lynn) Tyler taught me that grit can still be done with a smile,” he said. “Dr. (Wayne) Whaley challenged me mentally more than can be described. Dr. (Avon) Malone instilled me with the ability to understand scripture at a more mature level and Dr. (Bailey) McBride (54) taught me how to take that knowledge and put it in words that I could use to talk to someone else.

“But the single most influential professor was Dr. John Fletcher (82). I didn’t make great choices and I had real trouble growing up during my college years. He had a front row seat to that and was always supportive, encouraging, and positive. But he was also firm, held high expectations, and modeled Christ’s leadership with both grace and consequences. There’s no way I’d be where I am today without Fletch.”

Must be something in the water here, too.

Summer 2015

View more stories from the Summer 2015 issue of Vision magazine.