When Joe King graduated from the University of Minnesota business school in 1978, he wanted to work for a big Twin Cities company like 3M or Control Data Corporation. However, Joe’s father, Lloyd, needed help running his pool and spa installation company. Joe decided to give it a year.
“Without core values, you don’t have a culture; without a culture, you don’t have success in the future,” King Technology CEO Joe King says. A major part of his company’s culture is philanthropy. The King family and King Technology work with several charities, including:
- Peruvian Partners, which helps young men in Peru get an education while providing Christian-based housing and support
- Interfaith Outreach Community Partners and Food Shelf, which provides assistance to underserved people in the Twin Cities
- Hannah’s Home of South Florida, assisting single mothers with work and education goals as well as housing.
Joe King has now been at the company 41 years, and is CEO and chairman of the board. The same year he joined, Lloyd King introduced the King Feeder, a chemical delivery system designed to allow homeowners to sanitize their hot tubs automatically for weeks at a time. That invention began the transformation of his construction firm into King Technology, which produces and sells its own lines of recreational water-treatment chemicals and related equipment.
When Joe King acquired the company in 1988, King Technology’s revenue was under $1 million. The company does not release current revenue figures, but says it has grown into a “thriving middle market company.” Its distribution and sales have expanded across the nation. King Technology owns six product brands and holds more than 80 patents. It recently introduced a sanitizer for hot tubs and spas that eliminates the need for weekly manual treatment processes. Calling it “revolutionary,” Joe King says it’s the first continuous automatic-feeding sanitizer on the market.
Now Joe King and his wife, Mary, who co-own the Hopkins–based company along with their sons, are preparing the next generation. The Kings didn’t want their sons to feel obligated to join the business, as Joe had. After college, Alex King worked for Anchor Bank and HR consulting firm Robert Half; Carson King took a job at General Mills, then worked for Medtronic. Ultimately, neither could resist the pull of the family business. Alex, 33, joined King Technology as a regional sales manager in 2017; his brother was hired in September as the company’s strategic sourcing manager.
While working elsewhere, Alex says he came to realize he wanted to continue the legacy of the business his grandfather had started and his father had expanded, and that had opened so many doors for the family. “The opportunity to have ownership in something bigger than myself, to make sure everything that’s been built—the culture, the products—none of that goes away,” he says. “That’s very exciting to me.”
Still, he and his brother will have to work their way up to executive roles, like anyone else. Their father wouldn’t have even allowed them to join the company when they did if there hadn’t been positions open that suited their experience and they hadn’t met Joe’s rÃ©sumÃ© standards: five to seven years working elsewhere, with two promotions from employers within that time.
“You come in having experience, you’re not just coming in because of your name,” Mary King says.
Her sons support that rule, noting that it provided them with valuable insight and gave them credibility with King Technology employees. “[We learned] how different industries functioned, different departments and companies, leadership styles—things you aspire to and [things you] definitely want to avoid,” says Carson, 29.
Twelve years ago, Joe King hired a nonfamily member as a top executive, to bridge the gap between Joe and his sons’ leadership. Randy Roseth, who had been a vice president and general manager for Pittsburgh–based Siemens Water Technologies (now Evoqua Water Technologies), started as COO, and is now the company’s president. He’s also helping to mentor the next generation: Roseth is 55, while Joe King is 63, with retirement on the horizon; Alex and Carson have many years ahead of them to learn the business.
While his sons were working elsewhere, Joe kept them up-to-date on the family business through monthly breakfast meetings, and Roseth met with them quarterly to discuss their external professional development. Once the younger Kings joined the company, their father established an organizational structure where they report to other leaders, rather than directly to him. This, he says, can help mitigate any conflicts.
Joe brings the same conscientious approach to King Technology customer, vendor, and staff relations.
“Joe is a very ethical businessman, very down-to-earth, just a good-natured person,” says Todd Johnson, vice president of production at Maple Grove–based REO Plastics, a longtime materials supplier for King Technology. “And he’s got good people working for him with the same values and ethics he has.”
Joe King looks to hire people who share the company values of “servant leadership, excellence, integrity, courage, and abiding by the Golden Rule.” He also makes sure all employees feel like family.
“Leadership is bringing a team of people together with the same culture and values to determine [together] the right mountain to climb and the path to get there,” he says. “To be a steward of this company and to create an opportunity for [my sons] to have a similar experience…it brings great satisfaction and joy to my life.”