Pulliam Pools, one of the nation’s largest builders, has been purchased by two of its employees.

Third-generation owner Barry Pulliam sold the nearly century-old firm to Vice President/General Manager Debra Smith and Sales Manager Mike Clark.

“I know it would have been ideal to advance the family business to a fourth Pulliam generation,” Pulliam said. “But while not biologically related, both Debra and Mike are family, too. They have been a critical part of the success of this business, and I am delighted that they will continue my family’s legacy.”

Smith, now majority partner of the Fort Worth, Texas-based company, becomes president/general manager. Clark is vice president and sales manager.

As part of the sales agreement, Barry Pulliam, who is 60, will remain as a consultant for 15 years.

“I [wanted to] consult for the next 15 years, but couldn’t wait until I’m 75 to do that,” he said. “I want my existing customer base to be taken care of. I want the business to continue and the employees to have livelihoods. If I wait another 15 years and sell to an outsider, I have no control over whether those employees would still have jobs.”

Pulliam Pools was founded as Pulliam Inc. in 1916 by Theo Pulliam who began the company as a concrete contractor. His son and second-generation owner, Doren, purchased the first gunite rig in Tarrant County, Texas, and helped develop the process of pneumatically applying concrete that has become standard for the pool industry.

In 1984, Barry Pulliam purchased the company from his father, growing it from 50 pools a year to 100 in his first 12 months as owner. At the economy’s peak in 2005, Pulliam built 500 pools. In 2007, the most recent year recorded in the Pool & Spa News Top 50, the firm reported nearly $20 million in revenue.

Debra Smith joined the company as a part-time employee in 1992. She was promoted to office manager, general manager, then vice president/general manager. For the past few years, she’s largely overseen day-to-day operations.

“I feel very honored and proud that Barry would entrust this to us,” Smith said. “I’m speechless and awed by his confidence and faith in us.”

Smith also is president of APEC, the Texas pool and spa industry’s legislative advocacy organization.

Clark joined the firm in 1984 as a salesman, and later became sales manager. Credited with strong planning skills, he made it a priority to teach the sales staff to draw, provide thorough plans and implement CAD systems.

Pulliam said the sale was the perfect exit strategy in an age and industry where some people have a hard time with succession planning.

“To me, this seems like a real win-win situation: It’s good for my employees, it’s good for my customers, and it’s good for me. Everybody’s taken care of.”