As the current branch manager of Action Manufacturing and Supply’s Palm Beach location, designing and selling water treatment systems, Bruce Campbell owes his success to the experience he has gained from over 40-plus years. As he tells it, the various jobs that led him to the water industry were the equivalent of multiple college degrees for the character-building life experience and practical knowledge they imparted.
Campbell grew up in what he describes as a “regimented” household with a retired military father turned lieutenant sheriff who would often remind him to “always tell the truth the first time and you’ll never have to remember the story.”
His upbringing led him to the military himself; he was drafted just after graduating from his Florida high school in 1966 and joined the U.S. Army, volunteering to be sent to Vietnam.
“The best education I got, which was like getting a college degree and a PhD, was when I was drafted into the United States Army,” says Campbell.
While in Vietnam, Campbell became a communications specialist with secret clearance, learning about coding and decoding and working with people from different cultures, but he also dealt with the difficult realities of war. “It was really traumatic when you’re only 19 or 20,” he recalls.
So Campbell wrote a letter to Washington D.C. asking to be reassigned to Florida and his boldness paid off. He received a reply letter from a four-star general approving the transfer.
“I’ve never been overconfident, but I’ve never been under confident,” explains Campbell, pinpointing this event as an example of the direct approach that has led him to success.
After returning to a Florida base to finish out his service and taking college classes on the GI Bill, Campbell was back to square one. “My dilemma was, I felt like I could do anything, there wasn’t anything I felt I couldn’t do so it was hard to make a selection,” says Campbell. “It wasn’t necessarily education that puts you in the right job; I’ve learned that after 40 years and 17 different corporations that I’ve worked for."
Learning the keys to success, one job at a time
Campbell didn’t have to worry, however, because his military experience soon led him to a job as a purchasing agent for government contractor RCA Service Company, where he promptly initiated a cost-savings program.
“I started becoming very good at what I did,” he adds. “I started realizing that there were a lot of areas in which I was spending where there were ways to save money; you just have to be a little smart about it. It was a four-year college degree the five years I was there.”
From there, Campbell went on to Piper Aircraft Corporation where he was also a cost-saving purchasing agent and Rinker Materials Corporation in Vero Beach where he managed a construction team. Although these positions were just stepping stones for him, he credits them with lending him practical skills he can still tap into.
“It’s all efficiency,” asserts Campbell, “and not making the same mistake twice.”
Diving into the water industry
During his time as a construction foreman in the early 1980s, Campbell met the family behind McCullers & Howard Well Drilling Inc. in Palm Bay, Fla. He soon found himself appointed as sales manager at the company where he was immersed in the water industry for the first time. “And, I flourished; I found my calling,” he recalls.
But, by 1986, Campbell was out of a job for the first time since leaving the military when McCullers & Howard went out of business.
“I had to do something,” he explains. “So, having never drilled a well, having never drilled pipe, having never done an install of any kind and without any real experience, I lasted five years in business as Water Consultants Inc. in Palm Bay.”
Using his knowledge of the water industry and his real estate skills — he had earned his real-estate license on a dare a few years earlier — Campbell was able to tap into the property management market as a consultant on well-drilling, septic tanks and drain fields, irrigation, etc. He even developed and administered training programs for real-estate agents on water-related problems to help them sell houses with well-water to wary Northerners.
After five years as a self-employed water guru, Campbell was hired as a designer and sales associate by Aqua Products International Inc., which was owned by Aqua Soft Water Systems. He worked for the company for 16 years, getting to know the water industry inside and out working with local water treatment professionals and attending national trade shows.
When Aquasoft was sold, and then began to fail under the new ownership in 2011, Action Manufacturing and Supply’s President Richard Shepard contacted Campbell to come in and talk to him.
“I think he’s one of the best presidents that I have ever run into,” says Campbell of Shepard, who offered him his current position as branch manager of their West Palm Beach location. “Action Manufacturing picked up the [Aqua Products] inventory and eventually bought the facilities that we’re now in that used to be Aqua Products International.”
Since then, Campbell says, he has continued to flourish in the water industry.
“I love designing systems,” he adds. “I just finished one for a customer in the Bahamas on a hospital. I enjoy overcoming issues, I enjoy working as a team, developing something, inventing something and preventing something.”
From the disciplined organization and direct communication skills he learned from his father and in the military to the honesty, cost-saving and efficiency he practiced as a purchasing agent and construction foreman, Campbell’s background, he says, is his key to success.
“There’s no one issue. I think it’s all rolled into one. But, I think the biggest thing is being able to talk to different people. I don’t lie to people, I look them in the eye and I tell them what I think and what I can do and what I can’t do,” Campbell says, thinking back to his father’s advice on telling the truth.
Organization, he says, is “what made me successful no matter what I’ve done. Being organized, caring, not being corrupt, not being greedy, not wanting anything I didn’t earn and telling the truth the first time.”
Considering his years in the industry and looking toward the future, Campbell has sharp observations of issues that need to be solved.
“I’ve seen a number of changes just in some of the technologies; it’s gotten more sophisticated obviously, but a lot of things haven’t changed,” observes Campbell.
The main problems needing attention that Campbell pinpoints are the industry’s ethics, customer education and sustainability.
“There’s just still a lot of greed in this business,” he notices. “I’m not saying as a broad paintbrush across everything, but in certain areas [it is true." In addition, he says, many homeowners are not educated about the products they need and the value of sustainability.
“It’s the people that own the homes that don’t trust anybody, and they buy whatever is the cheapest and most of the time it’s not correct,” he says. “I don’t think they realize how precious the water source is.”
In terms of sustainability, Campbell isn’t seeing the large-scale changes he believes are necessary to make a difference.
“I’m a very positive upbeat kind of guy, but there were no plans 30 or 40 years ago to get today what they needed to work on then and now it’s too late and it’s costing millions of dollars because there was no planning,” he explains.
“I went to a class on what they call zero-scaping, which means you plant vegetation that uses virtually no water. And, my understanding was that the Department of Transportation was doing zero-scaping on their medium strips on the highway. Well I can take you right here locally where DOT has put in plush green grass, sprinkler systems. Everything is green grass and you have to irrigate it.”
Since only one percent of the water from his local water treatment plants goes toward personal consumption, according to Campbell, irrigation is a great way to cut down on water waste.
“I think practically if they were to go to strict zero-scaping, I think it would help because then you wouldn’t have to irrigate,” Campbell adds.
Despite the issues that remain to be solved, Campbell believes he can make a small difference through the relationships he has with customers of Action Manufacturing. "In my humble opinion the whole thing is based on a person's honesty and integrity and having a passion for the work," concludes Campbell. "Our water quality issues [in Southern Florida] are mainly iron, hardness and H2S. In north Florida, it seems to be low pH, some Iron and sometimes H2S. The water quality has changed over the past 30 years so a good water analysis is important. If honesty and integrity are in the right amounts, the consumer will be taken care of and their cost will be in line with the value."