Volume 45 Number 6
Filling the Gap with Aquest’s Oliver
Neil Oliver just took over as president of his family-run company, Aquest Inc., in January. As the third generation in the water treatment business, he has big shoes to fill and is excited about the opportunity.
His grandfather—C.B. Oliver—founded Everpure in the 1930s. His father—Bruce—took over the filtration company in the 1950s and became a Culligan vice president after selling it to the POU/POE industry’s biggest name in 1967. Bruce later founded Aquest in 1983 largely to fill an unfilled niche for an alternative to leaded-brass and other metal faucets that might leach or corrode with more aggressive water. Neil was one of his first employees.
“He was very concerned about making sure faucets were made from materials that were safe and inert,” the younger Oliver said of Bruce. “That was one of the reasons he started this. Another was he got into monitor faucets fairly early because he also was concerned there was no way to let a customer know when it was time to change a filter cartridge, an RO membrane or some serviceable components.”
Now, it’s Neil’s turn. He’s revamping Aquest’s website. He’s gearing up for new instrumentation to enhance monitors with smart technology and sensors offering better water quality analysis and, thus, control of treatment processes. He sees these as important now with greater demands—due to regulatory pressure and public perception—to provide more details about water quality and system performance because of confusing bacterial questions, bioterrorism threats and remote monitoring requirements of community water systems using POU/POE for Safe Drinking Water Act compliance.
The 48-year-old graduate of North Central College in Naperville, Ill., says just as the smaller focus of that school allowed him to get hands-on experience from business professionals that doubled as professors—he’s been able to learn more from working at Aquest than if he’d started at a big corporation.
“It was exciting to be right out of college and right there with top management and top executives with companies—the decision-makers and whatnot—making the pitch right to those guys,” Oliver said. “That’s the kind of experience you only get in a small company where you’re wearing a lot of hats.”
Aquest brings in slightly less than $3 million a year and experienced 15-20 percent growth on average over the past five years—although a little slower in the last two. Its most recent innovation, the Millennium faucet line, focuses on quick installation with advanced monitoring and air gap assembly. Oliver notes one challenge the company faced is its faucets are lighter than traditional ones—a fact he sees as positive.
“That’s because in the plumbing industry, like it or not, weight connotes quality. We prefer to laugh—or try to joke—about the fact that our faucets are light, but they don’t get any lighter because they don’t dissolve,” he said.
As such, Aquest was able to help out a number of companies affected by class action lawsuits over leaded-brass faucets in California a few years back.
For more of Oliver’s thoughts on family businesses, factors affecting the water treatment business and future opportunities for the industry with additional regulatory requirements with respect to arsenic and radium—go to our website, www.wcponline.com, and click on the “Executive Q&A” button.
Management: Neil A. Oliver, President and COO; Bruce J. Oliver, Chairman and CEO
Revenue: About $3 million annually
Operations: Specialty faucets with advanced instrumentation to monitor for TDS breakthrough or “calendar clocks” to alert end-users when cartridges, membranes or components need to be changed.