During the recession, the inground pool business took a deep dive and is beginning now to emerge from the depths. Somehow, though, Anthony & Sylvan Pools, one of the nation’s largest pool and spa construction companies, managed to stay afloat.
“The good news is that anyone who was casually in the business got out,” said Mark Koide, 53, chief executive of the company, based just outside Doylestown. “Now there’s a true weeding-out going on in the industry. We’ve seen three or four major companies that we compete against in different parts of the country go out of business.”
What happened during the recession?
In 2006, 250,000 pools were built. It went down to 45,000 in 2009, so 75 percent of the business disappeared. Last year’s number of new pools was only 65,000, The nice thing is that we’re growing. We’ve outperformed the industry in this recovery.
Who is buying?
Aging baby boomers. They want leisure pools. They’re retired, so they aren’t going to the office. They want something in their backyards. Another group is looking for fitness, and water is a low-impact medium, so it’s much better than running or tennis. Hydrotherapy, infinity pools with currents, or exercise features in the pool.
What’s popular in pool architecture these days?
The big thing is the whole integration of pools with a complete backyard, with the pool as the anchor. There are water features, a bar, kitchenettes, refrigerators, fire pits, hot tubs, all sorts of terracing. Out in Las Vegas, we even have integration with the house itself – like half inside the house.
Diving boards. Long term, there’s a lot of liability around that.
You have a chart on your table here that names each executive and lists their personality attributes in order, from high ability to where they face challenges. Everybody has a copy of it. What’s your thinking?
The Gallup organization has something called Strengths Finder. You go online and answer 100 questions. The top five, they call them strengths, but I think of them as weaknesses, because the top five are things you will naturally do. You can’t help yourself. You can be overbearing with them. The bottom five are things you don’t have. You can understand how you might come off with others. We’ve been doing this as an organization as a way for us to be more self-aware.
The chart says you’re low on empathy.
I’m not going to naturally wake up and be more empathetic. What you can do is surround yourself with people who are and give them the license to say, “No, Mark, you’re not empathetic.” Our human resources head, she has actually said to me in meetings: “Hey, Mark, let’s try that one more time. And this time, try to be a little bit more human.”
What are your top attributes?
Command, ideation, strategic, input. Input is when you see folks on trains and planes and you sit next to them and they’re tearing articles out of magazines and stuffing them in their briefcases. They’re intellectually curious. Ideation means you’re constantly coming up with ideas.
Over your career, you’ve been brought into troubled companies. What tends to cause trouble?
It’s typically around mission and a misalignment with where the company is going. There’s something wrong in culture, there’s tension in the culture.
Why is there tension?
There could be a compromise on values. Management and leadership isn’t doing what they say they want to do. There’s an inconsistency of vision. It usually goes back to leadership. Actually, not usually. I can’t remember it ever not going back to leadership.
How does being Asian influence your leadership?
The room is automatically diverse because I’m in the room. There are certain behaviors that won’t happen, like racial epithets. It would be unheard of in my experience because it can’t happen in a room where I’m in, especially now that I’m the CEO. It elevates the bar around behavior.
Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.
Home: Mendham Township, Morris County, with wife, Karen Li; and children, Jennifer, 21; Tommy, 19; Teddy, 15,
Neighbor: When Koide coached travel baseball, Gov. Christie was a baseball dad. "From a coach's perspective, he was non-interfering."
Diplomas: Brown University, international relations; Northwestern University, master's in marketing.
Resume: Worked as an executive at Kraft General Foods, Avon, Mars Inc., Pepperidge Farm, as well as in small start-ups.
ANTHONY & SYLVAN
What: Inground pool company, based outside Doylestown. Builds in 12 states and Washington,
History: Founded in 1946. Oscar Hammerstein was an early customer. Charles Barkley, Bobby Clarke and Cecily Tynan are customers.
Revenues: More than $100 million.
Employees: 200 year round, 125 more during the season.