Tim Malooly was 12 years old when he started his first job. It was a part-time gig, selling greeting cards door-to-door. Not the most glamorous job in the world, but it offered Malooly his first taste of making money on his own.

And of course, there was the model steam engine. He’d come across the ad in one of his Boy’s Life magazines, and from the very first time he’d laid eyes on it, he knew he had to have it. Following the hard work ethic that had already been passed onto him by his father, Malooly set out to raise the money he needed. For weeks he worked hard, until he’d finally made enough to buy the train he’d had his eyes on.

He may have only been 12 years old, but the day Malooly walked home with that model train in his hands, he’d drafted the constitution he was to follow from then on. The message was simple: Work hard towards achieving your goal and you will be rewarded.

Four years later, Malooly put this formula into practice once again to buy his first car. It was a 1967 Mustang convertible, earned through long hours bussing tables at the local restaurant and working part-time at North Star Irrigation, a sprinkler installation company. This message was his mantra even through his college years when he was up to his knees in student loans, his hands deeply entrenched digging holes and installing sprinkler systems.

Even now, this message continues to guide him. His three companies, Irrigation by Design, Irrigation Consultants & Control and Dulcet Fountains & Aeration, were born of the blueprints that have so cemented Malooly’s character. Among the first in the industry to push for widespread use of central control systems, Malooly has watched his efforts come to fruition as the technology has spread. Today, most large commercial sites operate off a central control system. His involvement with the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association (MNLA) as well as the Irrigation Association, where he serves as a WaterSense partner, has garnered recognition from the EPA. In early October 2008, the EPA named Malooly the first-ever WaterSense Partner of the Year for his efforts in the irrigation business.

“I’ve always been ahead of my time,” said Malooly during the course of our conversation. Talking to the man, it’s not hard to notice how much pride he takes in his work, equaled only by the amount of passion he puts into it.

Raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by a middle-class family, Malooly initially planned to become a lawyer. He entered the University of Minnesota with the intention of going to law school afterwards, double-majoring in political science and economics while earning his minor in Spanish.

But in 1983, Malooly’s mind began to drift away from law. Thanks to his parents’ political connections, he started interning at the office of Rudy Boschwitz, a U.S. Senator at the time. When his internship was up, he landed a job through a market research company that Boschwitz was affiliated with. His duties primarily involved conducting surveys and focus groups. By this time, Malooly was on full salary. He was only 19 and still hadn’t finished school.

Malooly continued working at the market research company for two years, until the partnership dissolved. After that, he went to work at Honeywell, a major Fortune 500 company, in Chicago, Illinois. It was here that he was first exposed to central control systems. Malooly recognized the technology’s potential very early on.

At that time, central control systems were becoming popular for golf courses, but there was still a lot of untapped potential within the rest of the irrigation industry. So in 1990, Malooly started Irrigation by Design. Working out of a bedroom in his father’s house, with the help of his brother, Chris, he approached companies such as Rain Bird, Motorola and Toro, pitching his ideas about how to integrate central control systems into commercial sites on a mainstream level.

His plan wasn’t to design his own system, but rather to take an existing system and retrofit it. Malooly envisioned ballparks, small businesses, college campuses and even smaller residences all having their watering schedules running on central control.

“My pitch was simple,” says Malooly. “I would approach these clients and tell them, ‘I can save you labor and I can save you water, and here’s how.’ I could even run the central control system for them from my office.” He had to overcome several obstacles before Irrigation by Design truly took off.

Malooly doesn’t take for granted the hard road he’s taken to get where he is today. His other company, Irrigation Consultants & Control, has furthered his goal to integrate central control systems by offering water management services to other companies within his line of business.

With the help of his brother, he also offers fountain installations with Dulcet and, as a certified WaterSense partner, he’s helped 10 members of his staff become certified as well.

His passion for the industry is practically an addiction. “I’m married to the industry,” admits Malooly, who, well into his 40s, is still a bachelor living large. When he’s not promoting water management or networking with other irrigation professionals, he likes to bask in the outdoors, riding snow mobiles, hosting barbecues and running marathons. But come Monday morning, he’s in his office, without fail, working hard to get to where he wants to be, with all the enthusiasm of a 12-year-old raising money for a model train.

“A lot of my companies’ success is based on employees and their dedication,” says Malooly. “I’m the idea generator, but they’re the ones who make it go. I couldn’t be where I am today without them.”