Harvard-educated Bruce Dunn has a long-standing reputation as an astute businessman. He grew Mission Pools, which he bought as a young man, into a Pool & Spa News Top Builder (No. 10). The Escondido, Calif.-based company brought in nearly $35 million in 2004.

He’s also not afraid to try new things as a member of the Master Pools Guild and SPEC.

Personal bests:

After purchasing Mission Pools, Dunn put himself through a rigorous continuing education business program. First, he joined the board of directors at North County Bank, which has since been acquired by Wells Fargo. Today, he sits on the board of Community International Bank. The position has given him firsthand exposure on how the best businesses run.

Dunn’s peers from the boards served as mentors and led him to one of his most distinguished achievements in the pool industry: He attained an Owner-President Management Certificate from Harvard Graduate School of Business. He also became chairman of SPEC, the California pool and spa industry’s most visible government advocate.

Lessons learned:

As a result of his experience with the banks, Dunn set up his expanding company so that each branch belongs to its manager. The individual establishes the office’s culture, serves as its face and bears responsibility for all parts of the financial statement that he or she can control.

“[The managers] run it like it’s their business,” Dunn explains. “Then you let those people who are running the day-to-day activity get all the kudos they can because you’re going to put them on the point for any and all problems that seem to be going on in that area.” Companywide costs such as general liability insurance and bulk purchases are managed through the corporate office.

In the early ’90s, Dunn and his brother and partner, Jeff, tried to bring the vinyl-liner market to Southern California. The venture didn’t pan out, but other opportunities arose from it. Dunn ended up working with manufacturer Fort Wayne Pools to develop pebble-patterned liners, helping to open the floodgates for the creative high-end designs of the past decade.

The Dunns also realized that vinyl-liner pool installers are more generalists than gunite builders. As a result, they brought building in-house and cross-trained crews to perform more than one phase of construction. “We wanted a super crew that would go out and, once the pool was excavated, camp out on the site — and that’s what they’d do until the pool was done,” Dunn says.

Best decision made in 2005:

Dunn hired a new manager for Mission Pools’ Large Construction Division, which handles government and commercial projects. “He came with a substantial building background, not in pools but in large commercial-type construction,” Dunn says. “We would say without a doubt it was an absolute success.”

Best decision ever made:

Expansion and diversification are a core part of his strategy. That’s why the Dunns expanded the company to serve Riverside and Orange counties as well as San Diego, and opened their own Commercial Division.

The diversification process extends beyond the pool business. After the ’90s recession, Dunn wanted to branch out, so Mission Pools purchased a movie theater complex and food court, and invested in other real estate.