April 21 2008 12:00 AM

Rain Bird


A no-nonsense person with a passion for the irrigation business, Ken Mills has essentially spent his entire professional career with one company.

Having grown up in small-town Peoria, Illinois, Mills didn't venture very far from home to attend college. He earned his bachelor of science degree in building construction technology from Bradley University in Peoria.

In his senior year at Bradley, Mills landed a part-time job as an irrigation designer with Rainy Sprinkler Sales. He figured it would be a "fill-in" job until he would graduate. Little did he realize that this would be the start of a career with a company that he is still with today.

Upon his graduation, Rain Bird offered Mills a full-time job. Four years later, Rainy Sprinkler was purchased by Rain Bird. He became a district sales manager in the Northeast and a couple of years later, he became a golf irrigation specialist, where he was responsible for calling on golf course operators, distributors, architects, consultants and contractors in the eastern one-quarter of the country.

Following a number of promotions, Mills, a soft, easy going guy, became a product manager and moved to the company's California headquarters. Seeking to further his education, Mills enrolled at Pepperdine University where he achieved his masters degree in business administration.

Today, Mills is vice president of the turf division for Rain Bird. He credits his rise throughout the corporation for "getting things done and working with teams made up of some great people."

Mills's passion for the irrigation business has been very gratifying. "Through the use of irrigation, we're able to help people in developing nations grow abundant crops and feed themselves," he says. "Beautiful landscapes in parks, around schools and golf courses, improve the quality of the environment around the world. New technology and irrigation system practices help the industry and the end users make better use of our limited natural resource – water."

 "Ken understands this industry better than almost anybody," commented Karl Altergott, director of the Commercial Division. "He has great interpersonal skills. That makes him a phenomenal leader."

Over the years, Mills has developed strong relationships within his company as well as throughout the industry. "Relationships with people are very important and you need to earn their respect. If you're not truthful and honest, you're going to get caught," says Mills. "You'll lose these long time relationships and that is not acceptable to me."

"Ken makes Rain Bird a better place to work. I feel very confident about Rain Bird's future with him at the helm of the Turf Division," says Patricia Thompson, product manager based in Tucson, Arizona. "He guides you to bring out the best in yourself; he helps you think about things in a different way. I love that about him."

He is a very direct person. "I don't play games, if you don't want to know the answer, don't ask me," Mills said. This trait has stood him in good stead for his entire career.

So what does he do in his spare time? Mills plays golf and looks forward to visits with his children.

An avid golfer, Mills has been playing the game since the age of twelve; he plays to a six handicap. When he looks over an unfamiliar course, his first thoughts aren't distances, pin settings, the speed of the greens, etc. Instead he notices the irrigation system, the sprinkler heads, the quality of the turf, and any maintenance problems. After almost forty years in the irrigation business, it's hard not to notice these areas.

Married to Madora, they are celebrating their 37th anniversary this month. The Mills' have two daughters; Leslie lives in South Pasadena, California and Stacey and her husband, Mike, live in Portland, Oregon. This past June, Stacey and Mike presented the Mills' with their first grandchild named Mills.

Having seen many changes in the irrigation industry over the years, Mills is most excited about what the future holds for the industry. "The drought this year has placed a tremendous strain on users of water. While water conservation will be on everyone's mind, the technology that has been developed and will be developed in the future will allow us to minimize the amount of water needed to keep landscapes and turf areas healthy and green.