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Few in the industry foresaw Bob Rasp’s departure from Zodiac in fall 2009.

But it was Calvin Johnston, Rasp’s replacement as president, who on first glance raised eyebrows. Johnston had come to Zodiac from Galls Inc., a supplier of safety equipment to police, fire and emergency medical personnel, among others.

It begged the question: Why go outside the industry for such an important role?

“The stakes are higher these days,” said Jeff Fausett, president/CEO of Aquatech Corp. in Huntington Beach, Calif. “And many of our industry leaders aren’t trained to be large-company managers. So boards of directors and management, especially when the economy is down, start looking at people with pedigrees to handle more complex problems.”

The move fit a recent pattern for the pool and spa industry that some see as a natural byproduct of a maturing marketplace. Indeed, insiders agree that the recent influx of key hires from beyond the industry signals a definite shift in outlook for some major manufacturers.

In addition to Johnston at Zodiac, there’s the president of Jacuzzi North America, Robert Rowan, who came to the company a year ago from power tool maker Black & Decker. In September, Mike Cook, who previously worked for Arch Chemicals’ industrial coatings unit in Italy, was named senior vice president of its HTH Water Products division. Then, in October, King Technology appointed Jon Althoff its new vice president of sales and marketing, a role he had last filled at General Mills as well as Sunmark/Nestle USA.       

And in mid-2008, Hayward executives tapped Larry Silber, previously of diversified industrial firm Ingersoll Rand, as their new chief operating officer.

“There’s a wealth of talent in industry, period,” said Manuel J. Perez de la Mesa, president/CEO of PoolCorp in Covington, La. “It’s healthy to get fresh perspectives from the outside. If you’ve got a talented individual with years of experience, that person should be able to enhance the value of your business.”

But, insiders say, there also must be a balance between new ideas and practical application. Effective leaders should be attuned to what makes the pool and spa trade unique.

“You have to be able to adapt these concepts they bring to our industry,” said Kathleen Carlson, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Aqua Quip in Seattle. “You can have that big-company mentality, but in the end we’re still a tribe. So the ones who are also inquisitive, I think, are the ones who will succeed.”

Cook recently told Pool & Spa News he planned to rely heavily on the pool and spa product experts already at Arch. “I ask a lot of dumb questions and they educate me,” he said. “I can afford to be the person who looks at it with new eyes, and to build upon the industry experience the company already has.”

In a larger sense, it’s a reflection of a growing industry — a normal corporate life-cycle issue consistent with maturation, said Bill Kent, CEO of HornerXpress in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“There’s more pressure now than ever to be profitable,” he explained. “So companies are bringing in professional managers to make things more efficient and grow the bottom line. And if you think about it, that may be a good thing if they’re not as concerned with some of the nuances or politics of the industry.”