Team Horner President Bill Kent is not retiring. We repeat: He is not retiring.
However, Kent, who has been at the helm of Team Horner since 1975, will step down as president to become chairman of the board as the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. firm transitions to an employee-owned company.
"This program will allow all employees to build wealth through individual accounts that will be paid out either at retirement or departure from company service. The details will be worked out next year," Kent said in an open letter to the industry.
Kent has appointed Mike Dooley, vice president of branch operations, to succeed him.
In developing a succession plan, Kent did not consider taking Team Horner public or selling it to another company. To do so may have jeopardized a carefully cultivated company culture that emphasizes team building and open communication. (Team Horner, which has about 400 employees across 16 locations throughout the state, was recently christened a Psychologically Healthy Workplace by the Florida Psychological Association. Workplace perks include onsite yoga, workout facilities, personal trainers and fresh fruit.)
“The culture of the company is extremely important to me and I know I can protect it using the [employee-owned stock plan] strategy,” said the outgoing president.
Handing it over to his children wasn’t an option either. Of the three, his youngest daughter Lesley was the most involved in the company. She spent two years in Australia in the early 2000s pioneering the heat pump market for AquaCal, a Team Horner brand, before leaving to pursue her MBA.
“None of my kids wanted to come back,” said Kent, 72. And even if they did, there is no preferential treatment at Team Horner. “Frankly, our hierarchy in the company is all based on achievement, not on personal connections,” he added.
So, he’s leaving it to his employees, most of whom have been company for at least five years, with some boasting tenures of 20 to 30 years. To reward their loyalty, they’re getting a stake in the ownership.
“I’ve always been a saver,” Kent said. “The money has stayed in the company and built an incredibly strong balance sheet, so when the bad times happened, the recessions and all that, we’re not bothered by those things. And I hope to pass that same strong balance sheet onto the [employees.]”
Founded in 1969 as Horner Equipment of Florida, the firm blossomed under Kent’s leadership into a venerable pool supplies distributor and manufacturer comprising multiple brands, among them HornerXpress, AquaCal Heat Pumps, AutoPilot Salt Chlorine Generators, Lo-Chlor Chemicals, TropiClear Chemicals, TileXpressions, BackyardXpo and StoneHardscapes.
Kent joined the company as a partner in 1972. He bought founder Earl Horner’s share on April 15, 1975.
Dooley officially takes the reins on April 15, 2015, marking Kent’s 40 year anniversary as owner. The perfect timing was equal parts planning and luck, Kent said.
As chairman of the board, Kent will oversee international sales and marketing (the firm has customers in 90 countries) and product development.
And he’ll do it as Dr. Bill Kent.
Kent will likely have earned his doctorate in international business from Keiser University by the end of January.