A year after the abrupt departures of several longtime key staffers, United Aqua Group has been busy launching new initiatives to increase the corporation’s scope and profit. The group has also hired a new CEO.
According to Don Gwiz, chairman of the organization formerly known as Aquatech, the additions are paying off. Fiscal year 2014-2015 has been the most profitable in UAG history, beating the next best by 17 percent. Gwiz predicted that 2015-2016 will show the same growth.
This came after a less than rosy 2014.Last autumn, UAG members were surprised to learn that the organization’s CEO, Jeff Fausett, was set to retire from the post he held for 15 years. Earlier in 2014, other managers left, including Executive Vice President Thomas Brown and Director of Education and Events Sharon Moser. Director of Membership Development Nancy Lesniewski has also exited, as did Tracy Miguel, the organization’s vice president of sales and marketing.
In setting the group’s new course, UAG wanted to undertake some game-changing initiatives. “The board of directors has unanimously decided to disrupt the UAG model,” said Gwiz, also a director and head of sales at Lewis Aquatech in Chantilly, Va.
Among new efforts were key programs and divisions to manage and grow the organization’s assets. Earlier this year, the group formed UAG Holdings to expand its portfolio through investment, including in private equity firms, and acquisition.
Investment banker George Zorbas was named UAG Holdings president.
The 275-member organization also started the Innovation Tank, a division that manages a $10 million fund to invest in cutting-edge ideas from entrepreneurs.
“We want to enable advances that will make for a better tomorrow,” Gwiz said.
Those interested in applying can do so at www.theinnovationtank.org. In doing so, the group advises applicants to submit well-researched ideas, display an understanding of the marketplace, and provide detailed financials.
UAG announced that it has invested in two companies through the new programs — One Degree World Systems, a Las Vegas-based start-up that offers a mobile app for travel, and San Francisco-based technology firm TaskRabbit.
The group recently launched another new division, this one to manage funds going out. The UAG Foundation will handle the organization’s targeted giving.
“What would make us feel really good is to tell prospective members that we’ve fed and clothed thousands of people,” Gwiz said.
In November, the group filled the gap left by Fausett when it hired Patrick Walls as CEO.
With extensive franchising experience, Walls served as franchiser of Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop, based in Las Vegas. He grew the company from a dozen locations to its current store count of 105. He also has worked with McAlister’s Corp., franchiser of the McAlister’s Deli restaurant chain headquartered in Ridgeland, Miss. Walls also has served on the International Franchise Association’s ICFE Board of Governors.
UAG COO Lee Rincon, who had been managing the organization since Fausett left, will remain on with his current title.