Nov. 1 2005 12:00 AM

What makes Susan Thayer unique is that she is a free spirit and an independent thinker. She has a knack for reading people, and has a gut feeling for business. But Thayer did not graduate with a degree in business; in fact, she did not graduate at all.

Thayer started swimming at an early age, and was pretty good at it. While she was in high school, she tried out for the women?s swim team for the Olympics, to be held in Moscow, Russia, and made it. Wow! Susan Thayer was going to compete in the Olympics.

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. 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 she would not be deterred. As a 17-year-old, Thayer was pursued by many universities and colleges. She received a scholarship to the University of Texas at Austin, and continued swimming. While she was there, their swim team won the National Women?s Championship.

Originally, she wanted to be a surgeon. However, while visiting these various institutions of higher learning, she realized that political overtures played an important role in medicine, and it was a role she did not care to participate in.

In the meantime, at least five generations of her family had lived in Florida and grew citrus. The Thayer family, to this day, farms about 700 acres of citrus. Her father, Tom, loves being a farmer.

In 1972, a group of citrus growers heard about a citrus convention being held in South Africa. A number of professors and USDA people were going, but the growers wanted a farmer to go along. They pooled their resources and elected Tom Thayer to go to South Africa and report back what he had learned.

While he was 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 to go into business. 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, Susan Thayer, then 19, developed a burning desire to be an entrepreneur. She even quit the university to pursue her dream. Coming from a farming family, Thayer wanted to do something different, but still be close to the soil. In 1983, she started Bird Irrigation, and became an irrigation contractor specializing in installing low-flow, micro-spray irrigation in the landscape arena.

Naturally, she was buying her products from her father. As her business grew, so did the business of Maxijet. Pretty soon, her father was asking Susan if she wanted to get into the manufacturing and distribution side of the business.

And like her father, Susan went to work for Maxijet, while working her own business at the same time. She learned to work on injection-molding machines; she learned all phases of the business. However, burning the candle at both ends is a tough stint for anyone, so, in 1986, Thayer gave up her contracting business and concentrated on Maxijet. By the following year, her dad, who was yearning to return to growing citrus, turned the reins over to his daughter.

The entrepreneurial juices began to flow, and Thayer immersed herself in the business. She figured the best way to grow a business was to use the best materials, and offer the best quality product and service to the customer, both before and after the sale. One has to remember that back then, only 20 some-odd 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.

She realized that five generations of farmers were inbred within her. As a child growing up, she recalled how her family and their friends would talk about products they bought and used on their farms, and how important it was to buy good quality, and then to get the service. It left a strong impression with her, so with that background it?s no wonder that quality and service are first and foremost in her mission statement.

?My office is above the factory floor. I like the idea of going out, walking around the floor, checking the quality,? stated 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.?

So what does she do in her 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 Winter Haven, Florida, where nature and fauna and swamps are all around her. ?I love the outdoors, especially if there is water.?

Besides being in the water, she likes being on the water--Thayer has an air boat. ?It?s the best,? she enthused. ?The air boat is something like flying a plane and kind of like swimming. 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 fossil hunting.

Where did she get her love of the water? Must have been from her mother, who used to be one of the water skiers at Cypress Gardens in Florida.

No one knows for sure where life will take them, but for Susan Thayer, it?s been one heck of a ride so far.