When Mike Gummeson joined NDS in 2003, he arrived via a circuitous route. Little did he realize when he graduated in 1982, that one day he would help lead a landscape irrigation and drainage company. Gummeson learned to be quick on his feet way back then. In 1974, he entered Princeton University as a pre-med student, switched majors, and came out in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in economics.
While at Princeton, he wrote his senior thesis on computerized menu planning, doing research with a couple of professors. “They started a company that planned menus by computer for the state of New Jersey and t heir institutions, and they hired me to run the company,” said Gummeson. “They put me in a house, where the office was downstairs and I lived above the office. It was a terrific arrangement.”
During his second year on the job, Gummeson realized that in that position, he was not going to further his career, so he decided to go to business school. He entered Stanford Business School and got an MBA.
Between his first and second year at Stanford, he worked for a major consulting firm in northern California, out of their Palo Alto office. At the end of the summer, he was offered a full-time position, so during his second year, Gummeson spent 20 hours a week working for this firm.
Gummeson was then bi-coastal: he was born in Moorestown, New Jersey, went to grade school in the Boston area, graduated from Princeton, in New Jersey, and then to Stanford in Palo Alto, California. After graduation, he continued working for the same firm. The first year was spent in California, after that, a couple of years in the Boston area. In his fourth year, he became a senior consultant, running smaller teams as part of client projects.
However, after four years with the consulting firm, Gummeson felt he really wanted to be on the client side of the business. In 1986, he accepted a position with the Campbell Soup Company in Camden, New Jersey.
“The CEO brought me in to run strategic planning, because he was having some challenges with the board of directors, in terms of the strategic direction for the company,” said Gummeson. “I had an unbelievable opportunity to be a part of his executive team and I was only 28 or 29 years old. He hired me to do that for a couple of years, and then rolled me into one of the businesses, so it was a perfect situation.”
During that period, Gummeson travelled to the Far East and Southeast Asia and helped triple the size of the company’s dry soup business. After a three-year stint, he was moved to a bigger position, running a larger portfolio. Unfortunately, politics have a way of coming into play.
A new CEO was in place, and he wanted to take the company in a different direction. Gummeson wasn’t part of the plan, so after 10 years, he and Campbell’s parted company.
Gummeson joined Aramark, a large food service and uniform rental company with about 200,000 employees. The CEO brought him in to fill a corporate sales and marketing role. About a year later, Aramark was having difficulty with a company it owned in the Los Angeles area, so Gummeson was sent to L.A. to run that business. “It was very tough,” he said. “We tried to improve it, but at the end of the day, it just wasn’t going to happen. We ended up selling.”
Equity capital groups are always seeking talented people, and Gummeson was approached by one of them. He got involved with a private equity-backed company that designed and installed audiovisual systems. After two years, the business was sold. He was then hired by other private equity firms to work with their portfolio companies and grow them, make more money and then sell them.
You could say that Gummeson was a ‘troubleshooter.’ He consulted with companies and found ways to improve and grow them. In December 2002, Gummeson’s assignments were completed. He had gained a great deal of experience since his days at Stanford. Consulting for various high profile companies, working on the client side of the business, gave him a better hands-on feel. Now he wanted to do stuff that customers would appreciate.
One day, he got a call from a recruiter about NDS; it needed an experienced leader. Here was a company with a group of products for the irrigation, plumbing and stormwater markets, and some very talented people. Many of you have used their products—from valve boxes to drip tubing, to emitters, to drainage products, to stormwater solutions and flow control valves.
Gummeson had little knowledge of the irrigation, drainage, plumbing and stormwater markets, so before accepting the position, he did his homework. He visited with a lot of distributors and contractors, asking what they thought of NDS. The more people he spoke with, the more excited he became. If he accepted this position, he could finally see the complete picture. He knew, in his gut, that he could lead NDS to a bigger and higher place.
NDS moved from private equity hands to a publicly-held German group, the NORMA Group. “I report to Tim Jones, president of the NORMA Group for the Americas.”
When asked how he sees the future, Gummeson replied, “Water as a resource is getting greater and greater attention. We’ve got a tremendous foundation and we want to keep playing an important role in bringing solutions to the market. I see a big gap between the market’s need for water conservation and responsible, sustainable stormwater management, and the awareness that those solutions do exist.”
After 13 years at the helm, Gummeson is still excited about the quality of their organization, and a culture that is focused on the customer and on working together to add value. “My focus and energy is all about achieving growth by adding differentiated value to the market, and making our customers jobs easier and more successful in the process.”
“I think we’re in a perfect spot.” I think so, too.