As we begin this Blog at Pentair Aquatic Eco-Systems, I thought this might be a good time to look back over the past three years and figure out how Pentair became interested in Aquaculture and why I came to join Pentair. As many of you may know, I have been in aquaculture technology research and development a long time. Forty years to be exact having my start as a research assistant at Woods Hole Oceanographic in the summer of 1974. Pentair had its beginning as a company about 10 years earlier with five guys from the Midwest following their dream to begin a successful publically held company with a “Win Right” strategy, endeavoring to build weather balloons; hence the name Pent ---- Air.
Fast forward to 2011 and you will find Pentair had morphed into a global leader in water movement (pumps) and water filtration products with 15,000 employees and sales of just under $4 billion annually. Aquaculture came to the attention of long-time Pentair CEO Randy Hogan who asked several members of his Aquatic Systems Leadership Team to investigate. Mr. Hogan became fascinated with the industry and its potential to become a force for good at the global scale. Providing technical solutions to the world for clean water was a centerpiece of the company’s business and sustainable aquaculture appeared to be a natural fit.
The team investigating aquaculture were based in Sanford, North Carolina in the then “Pool” Division of the company. Bob Miller, Rob Stiles and Dave Pullins began a two year investigation that leads them to my office on the campus of NC State University seeking local advice about aquaculture. Over the years I have talked to thousands of individuals and hundreds of companies about aquaculture and associated business opportunities.
However, as I talked with Bob, Rob and Dave, I began to realize maybe this time might be different. As I learned about Pentair, I found out that while they were local, that is a company with manufacturing in North Carolina and California and main offices in Minnesota, they had a global reach with sales offices and manufacturing spread across the globe. While I had heard of Pentair, Inc. and its Pentair brand pool pumps, I did not realize that I was more familiar with their products such as the pumps we recognize today (Sta-Rite, Aurora, Berkley, and even Fairbanks Morris were Pentair companies). In fact, Pentair owned more than 60 pump brands! A little more investigation found that filters we have seen for years in hatcheries with the Triton name were Pentair companies as well! Ok; this was getting interesting. A company in my “back-yard” with a strong manufacturing history, much of it in components that moved and filtered water that had a global reach and an interest in the Aquaculture Industry!
Over my first 6 months of meetings I learned more about Pentair, but more importantly I got to know the team that was investigating aquaculture for Pentair. This team was composed of finance and technical professionals with a strong history of lean manufacturing. That is, making things locally with little wasted effort, materials or space; and more importantly a continued process of production improvement. I also learned that the Pentair teams were good listeners. One of the fastest ways for a company to move into an industry is through acquisitions. Companies grow through acquisitions, and then further growth comes from production improvements and expansions within those acquired companies. I learned that Pentair acquired then grew companies; a refreshing outlook. So one of the early questions explored with the Pentair team was what acquisition would allow for a fast start and the potential for growth. In my mind, having been an aquaculture consumer for over 20 years at NC State University, only one company came to mind, Aquatic Eco-Systems, based out of Apopka, Florida. AES, founded by the late Bob Hiedeman over 30 years ago was at a point where it needed to grow. The large office-warehouse in Apopka had room for growth and with over 130 employees, was a dominant force in the North American aquaculture supply industry with sales reaching Latin America and Asia. This appeared to be a marriage made in heaven. Seeing the interest Pentair had in Aquatic Eco-Systems told me a lot about Pentair and the leadership team. I had often wondered what kind of company would need to come along to make me think about leaving the tenured professors position I had at NC State University. I was starting to think I had found one.
But what about those nagging worries about going from an academic world to the business world? In reality, I had worked with aquaculture businesses most of my career due to my Extension appointment at NC State and also the consulting I had done for the better part of my career. But there was still the question about the corporate culture. As I dug deeper and met more employees, I met an inordinate amount of happy workers, and few unhappy ones; one company vision stood out. That is, the “Win Right” business strategy. Put simply, Pentair would rather lose a contract if it cannot Win the Contract Right. What a refreshing business ethic. Before and after joining Pentair I saw this vision put into action.
So with good memories of my 24 years at NC State, I retired from NC State on April 30, 2012 and began my new career at Pentair at the end of May. Tune in to my next Blog entry to see how it’s going.