Ron Atlas, the longtime chairman of United Aqua Group credited with transforming the organization, died on Valentine’s Day following a heart attack. He was 70 years old.
Atlas, the president/CEO of Paragon Aquatech of Wheeling, Ill., is probably best known for his stewardship of what was then the Aquatech buying group. He was a member for 37 years, board member for 15 and chairman of the board for nine.
“During his tenure the share price skyrocketed year after year,” said his son, James Atlas, principal at Platinum Poolcare Aquatech.
Much of the success Atlas achieved reflected his renaissance character, said Don Gwiz, UAG’s current chairman. Atlas was an attorney, CPA and business owner who was passionate in his many pursuits.
James Atlas recalled at one point, his father took up horse riding and was such an enthusiast he became president of the Illinois Harness Association. After a chance meeting with Walter Payton at one of his stores, he became the godfather of Payton’s son, Jarrett.
“He was just that kind of guy,” James concluded.
Professionally, Ron Atlas was known for being straightforward in his dealings and single-minded in his undertakings.
“He led the vision for setting a great foundation for this company, and we are better off for it today,” Gwiz said. “He saw the future, and he knew how to get there.”
Under Atlas’ watch, that future included a move from Costa Mesa, Calif., to Las Vegas, which saved the group 9 percent in corporate taxes. He also oversaw the creation of UAG member insurance and restructured the leadership.
Atlas’ all-in mentality explains his entry into the industry. It started in 1970, when he worked as a field agent for the Internal Revenue Service. One of his audits was a pool builder named Jerry Swerdlowe. After inspecting Swerdlowe’s books, Atlas informed him he’d be out of business in six months — and, in typical fashion, convinced Swerdlowe to make him partner. Not long after, Atlas took control of the company, which became Paragon Swimming Pool Construction Group. James said his father became the premier pool builder in the Chicago area, especially influential in stainless steel pool designs.
“He virtually pioneered the stainless steel high-rise pool,” James said.
But Atlas’ most lasting influence may be in the many pool companies he helped start and the business owners he mentored.
“He had his finger on everything,” James said. “He really was the Godfather.”
Atlas encouraged employees to start their own businesses. He would act as majority partner to start, then let the owner buy him out once the business became successful enough. Terry Smith, James’ business partner started out that way.
“He gave everyone a chance to fly,” Smith said. “There were no reins put on you. If you were aggressive and wanted it, he would help you get it.”
All told, James estimated at least a dozen pool businesses began with Atlas as majority partner. Another 20 spun off from Atlas’ former employees.
“He touched and influenced so many people in this industry,” James said.
It may have been his way of giving back to an industry that became his life’s passion. “He loved the pool business,” James said. “There was something about being able to build somebody’s paradise. There was something about it that got in his blood. And he could never shake it.”
Ron Atlas was born Sept. 9, 1944 in Chicago. He received his CPA from University of Illinois and Juris Doctorate from DePaul University School of Law. A member of the Illinois Bar Association, he was an attorney with the firm Saken and Atlas, in Wheeling, Ill. from 1974.