At the beginning of this year, Lex Mason was officially promoted to president of Dallas-based Weathermatic. His degree in management and entrepreneurship from Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business has certainly been helpful over the years as he’s navigated various leadership roles within the company. But the ultimate preparation and education for his new role began much earlier in his life, in the form of the dinner table MBA he earned at an early age in the Mason household.
“My entry point into the business started at birth,” Mason says. “People laugh when I say that, but every dinner table discussion with my father Mike Mason, who is the current CEO, my two younger brothers Ben and Elliot, and my mom Happy, was about business.”
Mason says his first clear memory of the business is from his seventh birthday in November 1999, which he spent at the Irrigation Association’s Irrigation Show. He vividly recalls handing out foam footballs displaying the company’s logo as show attendees passed the booth.
“I also remember zipping up and down the aisles on a blue Weathermatic Razor scooter,” Mason says. “From a young age, my father pulled me into it and exposed me to the great business we’re in.”
Founded by Max Snoddy in 1945, the company recruited Mike Mason to turn the company around in the early 1990s, and the Mason family soon became majority shareholders. In the early days, it was no secret that times were tough.
“I was exposed to more at a young age than many people might believe is right, but there was no filter,” Mason says. “When we as a family had dark and tight times in the beginning, we talked about them and knew what the implications were, and we came together as a family unit to get through them.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, we were living different lives, but it prepared us for the success we’re having now.”
Mason vividly remembers a particularly difficult period, about 15 years ago, when the company suffered from a premature product failure on its light-duty solenoid. Learning that a former employee had falsified quality audits in order to hit a target was devastating, but seeing the negative impact it had on loyal customers was especially heartbreaking.
“I sat at the breakfast table for six months and witnessed my father remortgage our home, remortgage our office and max out every penny of the credit line to ensure we helped our customers in need,” he says. “We physically wrote checks until there wasn’t any money left. That kind of experience is not something you forget. It’s hard to admit failure, but we used that experience to learn and get better.”
Although there were times during his teen years when he considered pursuing a career in a different industry, his mindset slowly shifted as he learned more about the company his father rescued from distress. He says watching the irrigation industry’s increasing reliance on technology was exciting. That, combined with the fact that the national cost of water was rapidly rising, screamed potential.
“My dad knew that if he kept revealing more and more of the opportunity, eventually I would wise up and jump into it,” he says.
“As I started working summers at the office, I fell more and more in love with what he built. From freshman year in high school and beyond, I was dead set on what I wanted to do, and I was chomping at the bit to get into working in the family business.”
A focus into the future
After learning the business from his father and longtime members of the company’s executive leadership team for so many years, Mason says he feels like he’s been part of the business for decades. But Mason is just 28 years old, making him unique among industry executives.
“Our industry is aging, not just in the manufacture realm but in the supplier and distribution realm,” Mason says. “We’ve seen it happening in the irrigation trade as a whole, and that’s something that’s on the forefront of my mind, preparing for the next chapter and the next wave of individuals who will propel our industry to the next level.”
Mason says Weathermatic actively recruits college graduates and introduces them to the opportunities available in the irrigation industry. Despite the past year’s challenges, Mason says they’ve recruited talent from industries hard hit by fallout from the pandemic. At peak production, it employs 100 people — among them, a recent hire from the commercial real estate space who had the passion and drive so desirable to a forward-thinking company.
“We always want to recruit the talent today so we can develop the talent we need five or 10 years from now,” he says. “If you’re not recruiting the next generation, the talent pool runs out.”
A focus on service
In addition to ensuring a steady stream of next-generation talent, Mason says one of his priorities as president is continuing to shine a spotlight on customer service, an area where he says historically, Weathermatic has not received top marks. In the past 18 months, it has hired a vice president of customer experience to focus on building that support.
“With every product, whether it is a hardware product or a software product, it is only as good as the service and support that comes with it,” Mason says.
As the company grows its Weathermatic Partner Program, a program focused on supporting landscape maintenance companies as they expand into the business of water management, it has staffed a team to support these partners with a dedicated support person.
“In the next five years, you will see property managers place a higher priority on seeking a water management company than on the landscape services,” Mason says. “The price of landscape services hasn’t changed a whole lot, but in the same 15- year period, the average cost of landscape water across the country has increased 50%. When our partners invest in this big change in the world, they are searching for someone to help them build a solution, and we are focused on doing everything we can to support them, versus focusing on how we can pull cost out of the support structure.”
It requires a different level of education and support to run a water management business as compared to a system repair business, he says.
“There is a difference between a subscription service, like Netflix, and software as a service,” Mason says. “We are heavy on the service side. We believe that if you are paying for something it should be fully supported.”
A focus on giving back
Mason says the company has also seized the opportunity to make an impact on the global water crisis. Its “Save Water Give Life” mission, founded in SmartLine inventor Matt Piper’s memory, is dedicated to drilling clean water wells abroad. Mason says that for every SmartLink controller sold, Weathermatic donates the equivalent of a lifetime of clean drinking water for one person.
“We believe that everyone in the world should have access to clean drinking water, and we are so passionate about inspiring our family and partners in the distribution, irrigation and landscaping businesses to rally behind that same cause,” he says.
Mason says Weathermatic aims to be a company that is driven by purpose as well as profit, and he says that mission resonates with employees. He believes it also positions the company to inspire, attract and retain top talent. As a leader of the company, Mason aims to understand each team member’s motivation, whether it’s family, job security or the impact they can make in the world.
“People want to go somewhere they can make a difference, and we’ve seen that more every year,” Mason says. “I believe we have the best team in the business, largely because of this.”
To date, it has drilled 67 wells out of its goal of 500. While a handful are in Africa, the majority are in Central America, which has sometimes brought the reality of the situation close to home for him.
“We recently brought the whole team together and announced the latest well, just outside of Rivas, Nicaragua, a town of about 300 people off the beaten path,” Mason says. One of the production team members burst into tears and told the group that the town is where her brother lives. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Seeing how we are so small in the scheme of the world, the fact that, within our four walls, we directly made an impact in our Weathermatic family, that ignites the passion that we have to make an impact on the global water crisis.”
As Mason settles into his new role, a demanding position that he’s wanted for a long time, he says he is thankful for the role his family, including his wife Cassie and daughters Mackenzie and Georgia, have played in his success, and he is energized by the innovation and growth that lie ahead. As he and Cassie await the birth of their third child, dinner table conversations at the Mason house haven’t zeroed in on the ins and outs of his company just yet.
“Selfishly, I’ve always dreamed of having them come into the business and elevate past what their old man could manage,” Mason says. “At 3 and 18 months, the dinner table income statement reviews haven’t quite started yet, but each time they come to bring me lunch at work, Cassie and I walk them through the plant, introduce them to all our great team members and teach them all that goes into running Weathermatic.”
Lauren Sable Freiman is a freelance writer based in Cleveland and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.