Industry veteran and one of Current’s advisors, Mike Reardon has seen a lot of changes and opportunities in the water industry over the last 30 years. He has also often been part of helping make them happen.
“In the early 1990s, we saw an opportunity in the water industry,” he tells us. “While there were a lot of smaller companies and well-known brands, at the time, there did not appear to be an industry leader.”
“Starting with a foundation in a small public company named, United States Filter Corporation, we embarked on a series of strategic acquisitions, and focused on building scale with a strong culture, while driving integration of the various parts into a cohesive story of water industry leadership.”
In the course of that story, their team made more than 300 acquisitions, grew revenue from $17 million to $5.5 billion, and in less than 10 years, transformed the company from a regional manufacturer, into a global Fortune 500 company (NYSE:USF) and a water industry leader. In 1999 Vivendi, now Veolia, acquired the company. A series of subsequent divestitures spread many of the former parts of USF around the industry. Many of these companies can be found in some of today’s water industry leaders, such as Evoqua, Culligan, Veolia, Pentair, Danaher and Core & Main. USF clearly made an impact on the water industry.
When asked about the keys to USF’s success, Reardon shares a simple strategy. “Our growth strategy was about finding the right companies and people, and then getting them all to work together to solve customer problems.”
The ability to integrate a collection of companies is one of the most difficult tasks a company can do. “We tried to make it easy for customers to buy,” he explains. “Many companies focus on pushing what they have to sell, rather than offering what the customer actually wants or needs. This is where the opportunity lies.”
Opportunities are still something Reardon sees in abundance within the water industry today. “The prospects for growth and scaling in this industry are as great, or perhaps even better now, than they were when we started almost 30 years ago,” he observes.
There are a few reasons he cites for this. First, the overall market need is bigger today. The problems of water scarcity and quality are increasing faster than solutions can be delivered to customers who need them. “The ability to fit pieces together and simplify solutions for utilities and industries is a huge opportunity.”
Second, there are innovations and advances that did not exist in the past, and these have the potential to create a significant impact in reducing cost and improving effectiveness. As examples, Reardon points to the explosion of new digital capabilities, advanced sensors for collecting data and machine learning all as tremendous opportunities. “Reducing labor and institutionalizing historical knowledge is a huge need going forward.”
Lastly, Reardon points to the status quo of the industry as an opportunity. “Market success can be challenging due to the fragmentation of an industry. “The diversity of problems and the myriad of possible alternative solutions, plus all the different channels to market, can make it difficult for anyone to identify and implement the most appropriate solutions.”
Reardon sees Current as perfectly positioned to connect the dots and bring many of the companies in this industry together. “With a model that unites the local and regional constituent players in the water and wastewater industries, from investors and entrepreneurs to established service and technology providers, Current can be the connector.” Current works to help all of its members solve problems, deploy capital and easily bring innovations to market.
As important as the wide range of connections that Current offers is their quality. Because of our location in Chicagoland, in what Reardon calls the “Silicon Valley of Water,” the level of innovation and accomplishment is hard to match. The Great Lakes are one of the world’s largest fresh water ecosystems, containing 84% of North America’s surface fresh water and almost 21% of the world’s supply, and this has drawn an immense talent pool to Chicago and the surrounding region.
“When you look across all sectors of the water business, so many key innovations, companies and water engineers started here,” he observes. “This region has an abundance of highly qualified and specialized consultants and a myriad of solution providers. What has been lacking, is a “connector” to bring together all the right players to help execute and make the impact happen.”
We are proud to fill that need. And we are proud to partner with Mike and all our other advisors that help Current. “I am just one advisor, but I hope my experience and insight can be helpful to guide and influence change, which helps make the water industry in this region stronger,” he shares.
We’ve learned a thing or two about spotting opportunities from Mike. Which is why we know his insight and guidance are an important resource that we are proud to provide to our members.