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"I sometimes think I’ve accomplished as much as I can because I’m a mechanical engineer who can talk,” jokes Eric Bescoby, 57, CEO of IPS Corporation in Gardena, California.
His unusual path to the leadership of IPS wound through the cheese, irrigation, lighting, and grocery businesses. No matter what the enterprise, he combined solid manufacturing knowledge with uncanny people skills.
The Bescoby story starts with his unusual last name.
“It’s Danish,” he confides, “though I don’t have any family still in Denmark, as far as I know. A Viking ancestor made his way to England, and settled on the east coast of that country. Then, my great-grandfather took his nine children from London and immigrated to Canada.”
From there, the family spread out. Bescoby’s grandfather—a veterinarian — settled in Southern California in the early part of the last century, and cared for horses at the storied Hollywood Park thoroughbred race track. Bescoby’s father became a doctor; his mother a nurse.
Bescoby himself grew up in Upland, California, about thirty miles inland from Los Angeles, in the San Gabriel Valley. Now crisscrossed by suburban tract houses, back then Upland was smack in the middle of Orange County.
“We lived in a huge house in the middle of an orange grove,” he recalls. “And when I say ‘grove,’ I mean there were two miles of orange trees in every direction.”
That house is where Bescoby got his initiation into the green industry. At the time, orange growers irrigated their crop by digging trenches between the tree rows and then flooding the trenches. “During the irrigation sessions, we couldn’t use our driveway because piping was laid across it so the water could flow.”
Bescoby got his degree in mechanical engineering at the University of California, Davis.
He first went to work for a processed cheese manufacturing plant. “I worked for Shreiber Foods in Logan, Utah. Shreiber was and probably is still responsible for 90 percent of all the cheese that fast food companies like McDonald’s use. That’s a lot of cheese.”
It was at Shreiber that Bescoby nurtured a knack for staff management that would serve him well in many different kinds of businesses.
“I learned how to win friends and influence people…humbly,” Bescoby relates. “Human resources started sending problem employees to the production department that I supervised. I figured out how to motivate them, by being both direct and sensitive. If I couldn’t motivate them, they had to go. The rest of the team knew these people were a problem, and were glad that someone in corporate was dealing with them.”
After Shreiber, Bescoby got an MBA at Arizona State University and was recruited to work for a San Diego shipbuilding concern. Later, he sought a job in manufacturing and was hired by Rain Bird, where he started by supervising Rain Bird’s fledgling manufacturing operations in Mexico. Once again, his focus on people made the difference.
“I’d commute over the border at Tijuana to our Mexican facility, which was this set of Quonset-like huts and employed fifty people. I started by cleaning up the facilities as well as the warehouses and production operations.”
“By the time I was done in Tijuana, staff levels had increased by several-fold,” he reports. “Ultimately, I came back to the Los Angeles area, where I was promoted to division director for golf.”
After eleven years at Rain Bird, Bescoby then spent two years at ValleyCrest, where his burgeoning track record got the attention of a Bain Capital-style private equity firm. That firm sought an executive to oversee the turnaround of a restaurant pager business.
He got his position at IPS the same way: a different private equity concern needed an engineer who could talk, to run a company that made products for plumbers, contractors, and fabricators. But perhaps the company is best known in the irrigation industry for its solvent cements and adhesives, including the Weld-On structural adhesives used so often in the irrigation business.
He helped the company not just weather the storm of the recession, but actually grew the business during that time by aggressively expanding international sales. Before the recession, international sales were a small part of the operation. Now, there are IPS sales reps in Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America.
The winding road to success has not been simple. Outside of work, Bescoby’s interests are as eclectic as his route to the irrigation business. An avid skier, he also bicycles three times a week. Then, there’s a hobby that not many people know much about, let alone predict his involvement in: Bescoby buys and restores vintage trailer/campers. His most recent is a 1948 Spartan Manor trailer that he first saw on the cover of Sunset magazine.
“My guilty pleasure is buying and selling vintage stuff on eBay,” the manufacturing turnaround specialist confides. “Then, to restore and outfit the trailer.”
You get the sense that Bescoby could be successful in any business where people are involved. He seems to have that innate ability to motivate people. No question, Bescoby is capable of running a large public company. We’re lucky he’s in the green industry.
With apologies to E.B. White’s last two sentences at the end of Charlotte’s Web about the world’s most famous fictional spider, it is not often that someone comes along who is both an engineer and a good talker. Bescoby is both.