What separates some people and makes them stand out from the crowd? In a business environment, if you're in a highly technical field, it can help to have a PhD in an area of specialization. If you're fortunate enough to be in a family business and are part of the family, chances are that you will rise to the top. If you don't have these advantages, you just have to want to achieve. That's the case with Phil Burkart. There are a number of adjectives one can use to describe Burkart, but the one that I feel fits him best is committed. It is this commitment, along with his passion and boundless energy, that is driving him to higher levels. Born and raised the youngest of seven children in South Bend, Indiana, Burkart's close-knit family helped shape him in his formative years. He went on to attend Indiana University, where he received his degree in management. His first job was working for an import/export company. After a stint there, he took a position at Wheel Horse Products. When The Toro Company acquired Wheel Horse in 1986, Burkart became Toro's marketing manager for international riding products.
A short time later, Burkart began his 17-year ascent in the international division through diverse and progressively more responsible marketing and leadership roles. In 2000, he was named vice president and general manager of Toro's international business.
While Burkart was enjoying tremendous success growing Toro's international business, elsewhere, the company had purchased Hardie Irrigation (whose products now comprise the Irritrol brand) and began facing some significant quality and production concerns. To resolve the issues, Toro shifted manufacturing to its facilities in Juarez, Mexico. The irrigation market was in transition and, with all that was going on, it was easy to lose focus and momentum in the marketplace.
In early 2002, Ken Melrose, then chairman and CEO, asked Burkart to take over the irrigation division. It was a daunting task, a "make it or break it" career move. Drought conditions were becoming widespread throughout the country, water shortages were becoming an annual summer event and water conservation was becoming a common phrase. For Phil Burkart, the challenge started his juices flowing. But even he did not realize the monumental task that was ahead as he took over as vice president and general manager of the irrigation division of Toro.
Although Burkart had some knowledge of the irrigation product line through his experience in the international arena, he began to learn more about the complexities of the markets and the brands. He realized he needed to run Irritrol as a separate entity from Toro, always keeping the focus on two separate brands and letting each brand do its own business without too much overlap. This, by itself, is a Herculean task. It was under these conditions that Burkart took over the reins of the irrigation division.
Burkart was determined to polish The Toro Company's reputation among its customers. He knew they had the products and the quality name. He also knew that the contractor looked for products that worked in the field.
But it was more than just providing products. "As this market evolves and water management becomes critical, it is not enough to just make tough products that will stand up in the professional arena," said Burkart. "It is also about providing solutions for the contractor."
"We want to be a partner with the contractor and we've revamped our Riverside, California facility just for this purpose," he said. "We hold training classes to help educate our "partners" on our products, on business, and on how to be more profitable. We want our people, from engineers to product managers, to interface with the contractor so we can better understand what new products we need to make available to them in the future."
Growing up in a Midwestern city, Burkart learned the value of hard work and the importance of treating others well. His father was a banker and, being the youngest, he had many choices as to the footsteps he would follow. This background has given Burkart a solid foundation.
"I can lead by example," said Burkart. "But I don't do it by myself. It's about people, and we have some excellent people. Our staff is very knowledgeable. They're terrific." Ken Melrose, former chairman and CEO, remarked, "Phil is intensely people-oriented. That's good news for customers and employees alike. He is a living testimony to Toro's philosophy of treating employees and customers right. He's a champion of getting things done through teams, not individuals."
Mike Hoffman, current chairman, president, and CEO of The Toro Company, added, "Phil Burkart has stepped up to the challenge. He continues to provide strong leadership. We have confidence that he will achieve his goals."
Married to Amy, the Burkarts have a four-year-old son, Sevy. With all the travel he does (and quite a bit is on weekends), Burkart looks forward to spending time with his family. Although he loves all sports, they take a back seat to his family. "Golf will just have to wait," he says.
Burkart knows the job that has to be done and he is up to the task. What makes him an achiever is the intrinsic rewards he gets by seeing others succeed. What makes him so good is that he loves people. The relationships he develops with the contractors and distributors will take him far.
Phil Burkart is on a fast track. He will be one of the movers and shakers in the irrigation industry, and it couldn't come at a better time. Burkart will help shape the future of how turf irrigation is done, and we're all glad to have him on board.