April 21 2008 12:00 AM


For Robert Moore, Sr., epiphany came after he had a chemical engineering degree in hand:
During that time, drinking beer on the back porch and looking at a puddle in the backyard, a guy said, "Boy, I got lousy soil. Look at that water there." And as a joke, I said, 'Maybe you've got lousy water.' And that's where it all started."
Today, the company that Moore built in 1954, Aquatrols Corporation of America, is one of the most recognizable developers of soil surfactants in the world.
Says Moore, "I got my chem-E degree (chemical engineering) from Cornell, but the horticulture, agriculture, agronomy and green industry side of it came from the college of hard knocks, as my father put it. I just applied thinking to it, and took it from there."
Before involving himself in the development of wetting agents for turf, landscapes and farms, Moore had tried his hand in other disciplines. After graduation from college, he worked in the research department of Mobil Oil for ten years. Then, he attempted to create a business around the composting of municipal waste to produce fertilizer, an idea which was perhaps ahead of its time.
Aquatrols was the effort that finally paid off, and among the company's most supportive voices were Moore's own children, Demie, Tracy and Andy.
"I always thought that what my Dad was contributing to -- more efficient use of water -- was a cool and very worthwhile thing for the world," says Demie Moore, corporate director and business manager for snow products. "It was a cause that I was interested in contributing to in some way. I also enjoyed plants and pretty turf areas. After I went to a trade show without my father, I felt he needed assistance to further his great cause, and I offered to join in."
Robert Moore is now retired, and while passing the torch from one generation to the next can often lead to headaches, Aquatrols President Tracy Jarman credits her father with a very smooth transition.
"Dad knew when he wanted to retire," she explains. "He wanted to retire when he turned 70. At that time, he truly stepped back, although he's still involved in several projects for the company.?
Director of Business Development Andy Moore points to shared goals as one of the greatest things about working so closely with family. "Everybody has a stake in the company's success. Everyone wants to see the business move ahead."
Tracy agrees. "A high level of trust exists here," she says. "It's a great thing knowing that everyone is committed to the business."
On the other side of the coin are those issues that all family businesses face; and for Andy, one that stands out is the tendency for the scales to tip in favor of the corporate side of their lives.
"If I happen to be talking to one of my sisters or my dad, in the day-to-day, it's all business talk, you forget to ask, 'How are you doing?' You forget to talk about family, and you end up talking about work all the time. You kind of forget the personal side of it."
And is it likely that a third generation will pick up where Tracy, Demie and Andy leave off. Robert Moore's grandchildren range in age from 2 to 12, and while none have come right out and said that they want to take the company reins when they get older, their grandfather has observed that they like to plant and pick vegetables. So, maybe there's an agricultural and horticultural seed growing in the next batch of Moores as well.
By the time the grandkids take over, the green industry may have evolved considerably, given how things have changed from generations one to two. In his 50-year involvement with all things green, Robert Moore cites the increase in education as one of the biggest changes he's witnessed.
He says, "I think the people running greenhouses, running lawn care services, and running golf courses today are far more educated than they were one or two generations ago. When I started back in the '50s, nobody running a golf course had a degree. Today, these people have not only undergraduate degrees, but sometimes master's and doctorates."
In the long run, he feels this education is excellent, because the more you know about something, the greater your chances of doing a good job. However, he feels that more newcomers to the industry should be willing to roll up their sleeves.
"It takes a personal willingness to get your hands dirty," says Moore. "I think there are still too many schools teaching their students that, 'We've taught you everything you need to know.' I gave a talk to a bunch of students one time and said, 'You know the names of all the tools, but do you know how to use them?' I told them the best thing they could do was go out and get themselves positions as assistants someplace; get their hands dirty doing the work and finding out what the tools really do. Then they can put their training and education to work."