Claudia Bird, daughter of Walter Storm, holds a deep affection for the irrigation industry, much of which is rooted in the familial core she sees within. “I like that it’s long-standing families who’ve been involved, multi-generations,” she says. “We’re making the world a better place, and I think that’s a real positive industry with which to be associated.”
Walter Storm started a brass foundry in 1932, and thereby set his family’s irrigation heritage in motion. In its early days, Storm’s company made Rain Bird castings, poured for Thompson and Moody, and crossed paths with other industry pioneers, including Champion founder Tony Pejsa, who was Storm’s pattern maker.
Storm passed away a year ago, but his work ethic and business management skills have apparently been inherited by his daughter. In addition to her duties as president, Bird functions as the company’s marketing director. Her day-to-day activities may include strategic planning, working closely with marketing departments and management teams, visiting Buckner’s plant or meeting with clients.
She says she has found irrigation professionals to be among the most supportive and helpful anywhere. And she should know: she divides her time among a host of other businesses, including a diesel engine parts company, a residential and industrial development company and a valve company. However, Buckner by Storm remains her number one focus. “It’s my passion,” she says. “I love Buckner.”
The family theme, so common in irrigation companies’ histories, translates to a cohesion that’s virtually unheard of in the rest of corporate America. What Bird finds so unique about the irrigation world is how willing people have been to extend themselves above and beyond what’s required, assuming the role of teacher and helping her enhance her industry knowledge. She isn’t shy about calling up executives at small and mid-sized companies and asking for a crash course in their product line or their unique approach to industry matters. And more often than not, she finds these individuals are more than willing to lend a hand.
It was at age 14 that Bird first began working for her family, and over the years, she did everything from driving trucks to collecting money to laying electrical line. At age 19, she went to work for Western Raintrol (another Storm company), and worked there on and off for several years. She later earned a business degree from the University of Southern California before entering the executive ranks of Buckner. In all, Bird estimates that she has worked for her family for 27 years.
It’s hard to imagine how Claudia Bird would have any expendable energy remaining after her multiple corporate commitments, but at the end of each workday, a different set of responsibilities awaits her. She’s a single mom to four children, two sons in high school and two daughters in college. She’s also a self-proclaimed “sports-a-holic” who enjoys horseback riding, travel, hiking, skiing and snorkeling in those rare moments of free time. This year, she’ll be participating in a fund-raising 26.2-mile marathon for lymphoma research.
Even in light of the fact that Bird has a great deal of well-founded respect for families that work together, she sets some pretty strict employment guidelines for her own kids: before they can work in one of the family businesses, they have to spend four years working for someone else, after graduating from college. “When they’ve done that,” she says, “and worked for people who are not me as their boss, then I will bring them into the company, if they’re interested, and I think at least one of my children is interested.” The Storm heritage, it seems, will continue.
From her vantage point, Bird foresees some significant challenges and opportunities for the irrigation industry as a whole. One of the largest factors guiding irrigation over the past few years has been consolidation, along with increased competition and the presence of large retailers.
Beyond a doubt, it’s a different industry than what her father first experienced in 1932. However, she believes doors are wide open for smaller companies with the right focus. It has become much more important, she says, for irrigation professionals to find their niche and to remain loyal to that: “When we stop trying to be all things to all people, we get very clear about who we are in the industry and how we can best serve it — where we can add value. I think there are lots of opportunities.”