Legal Blog

A Video Conversation with Peter Bowe, President and CEO of Ellicott Dredges – Part 3

Click here to read Part 1, Part 2 Steering the dredge manufacturing industry, spearheading executive development initiatives Peter BowePeter Bowe is the president and CEO of Ellicott Dredges. For 130 years, Ellicott has manufactured dredges and dredging equipment. The company is part of the fabric of American history: its dredges helped dig the Panama canal, as President Obama mentioned during his visit to the facility in 2013. In 2014, SmartCEO Magazine named Bowe its Baltimore CEO of the Year for his shrewd business decisions, which radically turned the company around as it was on the verge of collapse. Today, Ellicott is the world’s foremost dredge manufacturer and sells to over 100 countries, including those embroiled in war and political unrest. Bowe also sits on the board of the World Trade Center Institute, and has helped launch the Institute’s Emerging and Developing Global Executives (EDGE) program with seed funding from the Peter Bowe and Barbara Stewart Foundation, a philanthropic organization he runs with his wife, Barbara Stewart. Peter Bowe spoke with citybizlist CEO Edwin Warfield for this interview. EDWIN WARFIELD: After the acquisition by Markel Ventures, you did a couple of deals in 2011, 2012. You were awarded the Association for Corporate Growth “Deal of the Year” in 2011. In 2012 you acquired IDRECO. Can you walk us through those deals? PETER BOWE: Sure. Again, with Markel behind us, we already had two plants: one in Wisconsin and one in Baltimore. Most of our business was overseas. We saw some opportunities by having a foreign footprint to approach another set of geographies and also attract and develop a couple more technologies. We’ve already been a multi-brand company, which is unique in our industry. We don’t sell just under the name Ellicott. We have multiple sizes and types of dredges, each appealing to a different client base. We found a company in Germany that was big in sand and gravel mining. At this company, Rohr, as it turns out mining is the biggest part of the dredging field, not navigation. And sand and gravel is the biggest part of the mining industry—you know, recovering aggregates for road building, concrete, real estate development—that type of activity. So this technology—mechanical dredging—became available. It was a stretch for us, but we had the right people to do it. Markel was encouraging us to think big. And then, subsequently, we partnered with a Dutch entrepreneur to form IDRECO, which is again also in the same mining business, also electric—as was Rohr—as opposed to diesel. IDRECO has a great product, which is not just for sand mining, but de-silting behind dams. There are thousands of dams around the world. They silt up over time, which is just as natural an act as changing river flow. So, again, we’re pursuing another niche, but what it’s also done for us—besides new technologies, besides a new brand name, besides new application markets—it’s also gotten us into new geographies. We’re selling to former Soviet countries, other places that are probably more naturally inclined to buy from a European source than from an American source. You’ve sold dredges to Iraq, Bangladesh, Ukraine, West Africa. Can you tell us what on the horizon are the countries you would be selling dredges to? Well we’re very happy that, when I started working there, there were only about 150 countries and now there are 200 countries. Countries are splitting up like amoebas. But that’s good for us because we’re good at tackling new geographies, whatever that might be, and we developed what I call the “lily pad strategy”: when one country has problems, or we saturate the market, we move to another country and follow that natural cycle. With 200 countries, we’ve sold to a hundred, and I like to say that means that we’ve made mistakes in a 100 countries and we have a 100 countries where we haven’t yet made a mistake because we haven’t sold there, and I’m sure we will as we progress, but we’ll have the staying power to keep going. What countries are new? If they’re wet, if they have water, if they have resources to recover, we’ll be there. One country that we’re excited about is India. There’s a new Prime Minister, Modi, and he was elected to reform the business climate and to invest in infrastructure. They, like the U.S., are trying to turn their waterways into marine transportation because it’s much faster to do that than to build up roadways. The Indian infrastructure, from ports to roads to waterways, is notoriously bad, and it looks like the prime minister’s going to make a dent in improving that.  

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