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Fluidra announced that Troy Franzen will be retiring and Lennie Rhoades will become the new president of Fluidra North America. We had the opportunity to catch up with Troy to conduct an informal exit interview on the Pool Magazine podcast.

(Pool Magazine) PM: So congratulations in the Troy order, are you officially retired right now?

(Troy Franzen) TF: I’m officially retired right now. This is my first week at home where I don’t check my phone every five minutes. It’s a different sentiment, but yeah, it’s kinda official as we speak.

PM: It’s great. 12 years with the company have been quite an achievement. You had a great run and great milestones with Fluidra. You stayed with them for a long time, can you tell us a bit about your experience with them?

TF: It was fantastic. I look back and twelve and a half years seem to have passed. The past three years, as we know, have placed time in a different context.

PM: What changed in your life while you were president of Fluidra?

TF: What has changed in my life? Oh man. Well, when I started with this business, I had three young children. Now, twelve and a half years later, I have three adult children who are almost all in school or working in post-graduate studies and that makes me proud. It was a big change in my life. I certainly learned a lot about the industry, our business and the pool business. It was a pleasure along the way.

Franzen played an important role in the transition from Zodiac to Fluidra
Franzen played an important role in the transition from Zodiac to Fluidra

PM: We know that you played an important role in the transition from Zodiac to Fluidra. I mean, you were there at the very beginning. Can you tell us a bit about that and some of the other acquisitions, mergers, and changes you’ve seen happen during your time with the company?

TF: In 2010, I would say we were owned by Carlyle Private Equity then. We were under the Zodiac Pool Systems label. If you go back and think about what happened before that time with the housing market and of course the great recession that took place, it was a dramatic time not only for the industry but for our business.

The business has changed drastically while the economy has kind of taken a turn for the worse. There was a lot of under-investment or no investment or cost-cutting when I came on board. I would say the company was a bit rudderless and lacked direction. Investment was needed in key areas such as customer service, quality and sales. It was a tough time, but on the one hand it was nice to come in when things were at their lowest. There was only one way to go with this.

Bruce Brooks, our current CEO, and I agreed that we had worked together in the past. We aim to build a great business and not think short term and not think about overthrowing the business. We started thinking about creating a brand. Build quality infrastructure. Implement a customer-centric sales and customer service strategy. You know? Really say “Hey, what do we want this company to be today?” That was twelve and a half years ago, and the results speak for themselves.

PM: You have reached some important milestones over the past two years. Taylor Technologies, SR, Smith, CMP. There are some big acquisitions there.

TF: If you can go back before that, we weren’t doing a ton of acquisition work in the beginning because we were still building the foundations and fundamentals. We bought a company called Savi Lights years ago. Nicheless LED technology had some quality issues at first, but this acquisition kind of put us in the lighting category. We then purchased a small company called Grand Effects, which gave us access to this high-end decorative fire and water space.

When the pandemic hit, many companies somehow went into hiding or thought things were going to get really bad. Not only has the market started to turn for the better, but Fluidra has doubled down. The board gave us a lot of support, not only financially, but gave us the leeway to get aggressive.

We started with custom molded CMP products from Atlanta, which kind of took us into another vertical of hot tub OEM products, which we’re very excited about. We’ve also expanded our offering with alternative sanitizers, white goods, and other products that fit seamlessly into our Jandy and Polaris offering. Then we moved on and eventually bought SR Smith in Oregon. It introduced us to a lot of deck equipment like slides, rails, diving boards, and also gave us a good business base to expand the business portfolio. Conclusion with Taylor Water Technologies of Maryland. It was a nice little bolt in the family.

PM: These are great milestones. Troy, now that we’re getting to the point in our conversation where we have to ask you, what made you decide to take this moment to retire?

TF: Oh boy, I don’t know if there was an AHA moment. I always said I wanted to retire earlier, and I was naive enough to say at 21 that I would retire at 50. In fact, I missed my target. I’m a little late but I’ve always wanted to take the time to do the things I want to do; while I could do them, on my own schedule. I love sports, so to use a sports analogy, I didn’t want to fall into the void. I didn’t want to be carried off the field on a stretcher and I wanted to make that my decision.

Fluidra has had this incredible streak of success. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the past two years have been incredibly rewarding, but they’ve also been challenging and especially when you add the acquisition work on top of the day-to-day hard work that has gone into servicing our customers.

It was time to take a break. I think late last year Bruce and I started talking about succession planning. As a public company, one of our jobs is to be stewards of the future, not just the present. How to make a successful transition of power? So I said I’m ready to take a break, let’s start thinking about a transfer. That’s kind of when it all started, almost ten months ago. I know this was just announced recently, but actually, in my mind, the plan has been in the works for a while now.

PM: Lennie Rhodes will take your place. His previous role was CEO of Big Ass Fans. I saw that he was vice president at Husqvarna and before that marketing director at Electrolux. This kind of unexpected move of bringing an outsider into the company, what was the strategy behind this decision to look outside the organization?

TF: Well, some people might call it an unexpected or unconventional move, but I was actually from outside the industry when I came on. He has an incredible journey. I think if you look at the companies he’s worked for, he’s worked in very similar types of channels and industries that we deal with. Working through distribution is part of her journey. So I think Bruce thought that was an important aspect. We wanted someone who would bring a fresh perspective and a diversity of ideas if you will. I think that’s why we landed on Lennie. I’m pretty excited. I spent a lot of time with him and actually I think the company is going to be in good hands.

PM: Usually when there is a change at the top, there is a lot more change coming. What does the change in leadership look like for the rest of the executive organization as well as the base of Fluidra North America?

TF: People have asked me what I’m proud to leave behind. I think that’s the management team we have in place at Fluidra. Twelve years ago, we were still kind of a green, inexperienced, rudderless management team. We have turned the corner and I would say that over the past seven years there has been consistent and strong leadership and a strategic plan. We have been a stable group in the industry. I am very happy and proud of the team we have in place. We have a very strong, stable and mature management team and frankly, I don’t foresee any change in management.

PM: Lennie Rhoades comes in at a particularly difficult time. What advice as outgoing president have you been able to offer Lennie about the obstacles ahead?

TF: I started in 2010 so I sort of started, I don’t mean a similar time frame, but because I don’t think what’s happening now is going to have the same curve or kind of of decline that occurred in 2008. Admittedly, we are in a period of easing. We can debate whether we are in a recession or heading into a recession, but I think the fundamentals are sound. My advice to him was, don’t overreact. Don’t do anything short term that will impact a truly stable business.

Sure, he’ll have his own style of leadership and he’ll have his own approaches, but I’ve advised not to let the short-term media cycle or what’s happening with the economy affect what’s a pretty good organization with a good strategy. Stay the course. Look for ways to improve yourself. Look for ways to increase efficiency and unique ways to get to market. But don’t overreact to a short-term economic downturn.

PM: What are your plans now? What involvement, if any, do you plan to maintain with Fluidra when you leave the organization?

TF: Personally, I plan to take a break, travel with my wife and spend time with my three grandchildren. I would like to get involved in voluntary charities in my community. I intend to help Bruce, the Board of Directors and the management team in any way I can.

If there are future consultations or outside work for which they need help; I don’t know, maybe it’s due diligence or looking into possible future acquisitions. I kind of signed on to help as special projects come up and in the very short term, plus help Lennie lead the way. Any questions he has or any door he needs to open, I’m happy to help him because it’s in my interest and everyone else’s.

You know, I think the best is yet to come from the company. Although there is a small weak point in the economy, the future is really, really bright and I think you are going to see great things from Fluidra in the future.

Listen to our entire conversation with Troy Franzen on the Pool Magazine podcast

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