|By DENNE GOLDSTEIN|
|What makes Samuel Thayer unique is that he is a free spirit and an independent thinker. From the age of two, Susan Thayer knew she was born in the wrong body; that she was, in fact, male. So in 2011, Susan Thayer transitioned, and became Samuel Thayer. |
Thayer has a knack for reading people, and has a gut feeling for business. But he did not graduate with a degree in business; in fact, he did not graduate at all.
Thayer started swimming at an early age, and was pretty good at it. While in high school, she tried out for the women’s Olympic swim team, and made it. Wow! Susan Thayer was going to compete in the Olympic Games, to be held in Moscow, Russia.
Unfortunately, it never happened. If you check your history books for the year 1980, you’ll find (or remember) that the United States was at odds with the USSR at that time. President Carter decided to boycott the Olympics because it was being held in Moscow.
Whatever sports fame Thayer might have achieved died with the boycott. Disappointed, yes, but Thayer would not be deterred. As a 17-year-old, she was pursued by many universities and colleges, received a scholarship to the University of Texas at Austin, and continued swimming. During Thayer’s first and only completed year of college, the women’s swim team won the National Championships.
Originally, Susan—now becoming Samuel—wanted to be a surgeon. However, while visiting various institutions of higher learning, he realized that politics played an important role in medicine, and that was something he did not care to participate in.
At least five generations of Thayer’s family had lived in Florida and grown citrus. The family, to this day, still farms about 1,000 acres of citrus. His father, Tom, loves being a farmer.
In 1972, a group of Ph.Ds from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences was chosen to attend a month-long trip to South Africa to attend the world’s first International Citrus Congress. Florida growers wanted a farmer to go along, so a predominant grower, Gilbert Bowing, financed Tom Thayer’s trip.
While in South Africa, Thayer came across the micro-jet irrigation technique. Drip irrigation was in its embryonic stage, and nobody in this country had heard of micro-irrigation or micro-jets at that time. Upon his return, one of the researchers, Dr. Robert Koo, urged Thayer, Senior, to introduce and sell products using the new technology here in the U.S. Dr. Koo believed that low flow was the future. Tom Thayer started a business, and some time later named it Maxijet, Inc., while still farming citrus.
Meanwhile, Samuel Thayer, then 20, had developed a burning desire to be an entrepreneur, and even quit the university to pursue his dream. Having come from a farming family, Thayer wanted to do something different, but still be close to the soil. In 1983, he started Bird Irrigation, and became an irrigation contractor specializing in installing low-flow, microspray irrigation systems in the landscape arena.
Naturally, he bought his products from his father. As Samuel’s business grew, so did the business of Maxijet. Pretty soon, Tom was asking him if he wanted to get into the manufacturing and distribution side of the business.
Samuel went to work for Maxijet, while continuing to work at his own business. He learned to work on injection-molding machines and all the other processes of the business. However, burning the candle at both ends is a tough stint for anyone, so, in 1986, Thayer gave up his contracting business to concentrate full-time on Maxijet. By the following year, his dad, who was yearning to return to growing citrus, turned the reins over to him.
The entrepreneurial juices began to flow, and Thayer immersed himself in the business. He figured the best way to grow a business was to use the best materials, and to offer the highest-quality products and service to the customer, both before and after the sale. One has to remember that back then, some 30 years ago, micro-flow irrigation was not very well known. Thayer was constantly helping to educate farmers, landscape contractors and landscape architects about the benefits of low flow.
One of the favorite parts of his job was going out in the field and listening to what his customers’ needs were. Since the company had its own tool room, he was able to come back to the factory and design new, innovative products to solve their needs.
He believes that his family trait of dyslexia has actually been a gift and helped him become an inventor. He and his team have developed more than seven patented and trademarked irrigation products.
“My office is above the factory floor. I like the idea of going out, walking around the floor, and checking the quality,” said Thayer. “Because we have our own tool shop, we can come out with a new design and turn it around in a very short time.” He is now in his 32nd year with Maxijet, and what he is most proud of are all the incredible relationships that have been built during this time with employees, customers and vendors.
So what does he do in his off time?
“I still swim occasionally,” says Thayer. “I just love it. I like to bike ride and walk, but nothing gives me a high like swimming.” Thayer lives in Lake Wales, Florida, where nature, wildlife, fauna and swamps are all around him. “I love watching wildlife, especially if there is water.”
Besides being in the water, he likes being on the water—Thayer has an air boat. “It’s the best,” he enthused. “The air boat is something like flying a plane and kind of like swimming, too. Just going out in the swamps and looking at nature is a marvel.” In addition, Thayer also loves to fossil hunt, and Florida is a great place for that.
Where did he get his love of the water? It must have come from his mother, who used to be one of the water skiers at Cypress Gardens in Florida.
No one knows for sure where life will ultimately take them, but for Samuel Thayer, it’s been one heck of a ride so far.