Jumping into the Deep End

How Poolcorp CEO Manuel Perez de la Mesa creates and seizes opportunities to drive the company’s success

Manuel Perez de la Mesa; President, Director, and CEO; Poolcorp

A basketball player and a businessperson may not have many skills in common, but what they do share is persistence. It is this persistence, Manuel Perez de la Mesa says, that drives them to succeed. “Certainly Lebron James has some physical attributes and some mental attributes, but the biggest attribute he has is commitment to work,” Perez de la Mesa says. “Not everybody is going to be a Lebron James, but everybody can be successful.”

Perez de la Mesa is president, director, and CEO of Poolcorp, the world’s leading independent distributor of swimming pools and related products. Since 2012, the company has achieved significant organic growth, raising its sales by over 40 percent and more than doubling its profits. The majority of the growth has occurred within existing markets, where the company has both participated in the growth of the market and grown its share within it. Perez de la Mesa drives growth through a combination of persistence and development, ensuring his employees and customers have the skills and opportunities they need to succeed.

Poolcorp’s extensive recruiting and training process ensures that company employees are well-suited to their roles and poised for success. The company recruits from thirty-five universities, and new hires are matched with positions based on both their skills and their personality traits. Poolcorp has identified personality traits that are common to its top performers in various roles. Recruits complete personality evaluations and are placed according to their strongest qualities. “Having the right people means that they have not only the wherewithal from a business acumen standpoint to do what they need to do, but also the commitment to take that forth and the sense of urgency to work with customers to help the customers succeed,” he explains.

Once employees are hired, Poolcorp creates a scaffold to ensure that they have opportunities to develop their skills throughout their time with the company. Hires complete a seven-month management-training program before they are placed in professional positions. Once placed, they have opportunities to complete self-study and online courses to advance their skills.

One of the skills required for success is the ability to provide development opportunities to reports. “Your key to becoming a successful manager is your ability to develop your people,” Perez de la Mesa says. “It’s that sense of urgency—the culture of not only service to our customer but the culture internally of caring for our people. You can’t do one without the other.”

“When your business is dependent on your customers’ success, then it’s incumbent on you to help them succeed.”

—Manuel Perez de la Mesa

Employee evaluations, which are measured against both absolute standards and peer performance, offer both employees and managers opportunities to further develop their skills. “Those measurements serve to provide feedback to the employee as well as their management in terms of how they’re performing,” Perez de la Mesa says.

Poolcorp’s success depends on the success of its customers to deliver its products to the end consumer. Seventy percent of the company’s sales are to contractors, and 30 percent are to retailers. The company assists retailers with merchandising, store layout, and training, and helps contractors diagnose problems to deliver the best solutions to the end consumer. “When your business is dependent on your customers’ success, then it’s incumbent on you to help them succeed,” Perez de la Mesa says.

Employee development isn’t the only challenge for the growing company. External obstacles, such as regulatory roadblocks that stall expansion impact the company’s ability to operate effectively and efficiently. In the face of these setbacks, Perez de la Mesa persists. “You have to have a lot of patience,” he says. “You have to deal with all these distractions and noise and ultimately stay persistent.”

Whether a government administration encourages business expansion and supports free enterprise determines whether Poolcorp will expand into that market. The company has over 340 sales centers worldwide and operates in thirty-five states, but it avoids markets where the government inhibits growth. “There are countries we don’t operate in because they are not conducive to free enterprise,” Perez de la Mesa says. “The bottom line is we are where we are because we choose to be there.”

Since the early days of his career, Perez de la Mesa has persisted with an athlete’s determination. He went to college at night while working full-time during the day, an approach that allowed him to advance quickly in his career and secure a position that would ordinarily call for someone older. Completing school while in the workforce also improved his time management skills and discipline and provided him the opportunity to apply the theories he was learning in academia to his professional life as he learned them.

Finding and seizing opportunities for development and growth has caused Perez de la Mesa, and Poolcorp, to excel. “I can’t emphasize enough the opportunities that exist for all,” he says. “If one applies themselves, one can realize their dreams.”