Technology expert continually seeks solutions to industry issues
The key to a long career in any industry is a sincere passion for the work. Francis Boodoo, director of applied technologies for Purolite Corp., has demonstrated this dedication in the water treatment industry, with knowledge of technical treatment, sales techniques, software development and everything in between. A self-described “problem solver,” he has a history of noting gaps or other issues in the industry and sets out to solve them on his own.
Path to the Top
Boodoo entered the water industry “by happenstance,” he said. His father worked for a water company and did not have the money to send Boodoo to school, so instead he brought him to his office.
“He introduced me to a nice lady there who introduced me to all the other engineers in the office and they decided to fund part of my education,” Boodoo said. “So they paid some of my fees in university, amazingly enough. Otherwise my life would have been changed a lot.”
After graduating from the University of the West Indies in Trinidad with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1973, Boodoo found traditional engineering jobs hard to come by. He eventually settled on a job in sales, which he admitted he was not very good at, at first.
“I knew about the technical stuff and my boss kind of recognized that after a couple of weeks and he said, ‘I like you but you suck when it comes to selling, so I’m going to send you to a course called Effective Selling Techniques,’” Boodoo said. After the five-day course, which involved roleplaying as both buyer and seller, Boodoo became more comfortable with his job.
This time spent learning how to be an effective salesperson helped inform the rest of Boodoo’s career.
“After I learned how to not suck at it, I really started liking it and in fact I resolved never to go back into a traditional engineering job because I kind of liked working in the informal way with people and solving problems,” he said. “At the end of the day, all of us are in sales. Whether your title is editor or chemical engineer or plant manager, you are in sales because you have to convince the people around you.”
After sales, Boodoo moved to a role in water treatment chemical manufacturing. When the plant he was running burned down, he and his wife then decided to start their own business. For 12 years, Boodoo diagnosed problems in boilers, cooling towers, and wastewater, while also selling water treatment equipment and chemicals.
“I learned how to run a business, which I didn’t know about,” he said. “I learned about the importance of cash flow to stay out of trouble. … After many years I would ask my customers, why do they keep me around? And they said, ‘We only really buy from you because of your service and loyalty.’”
During this time, Boodoo also acted as a consultant to large companies, offering training seminars to water treatment operators. Eventually, his focus landed on demineralizers.
“At that time, I didn’t know anything about ion exchange resins, but I realized that if the demineralizer was working well, the operators would have less trouble maintaining the plant on specifications and my job became easier,” he said. “So I decided I better learn more about ion exchange resins.”
Boodoo represented Purolite as the company’s Caribbean distributor and officially joined the company in a larger capacity in 1997, when he moved to the U.S., as part of Purolite’s international sales group.
He eventually switched to the Americas group, and also began training the sales force, providing technical support, and working on the company’s U.S. website. Boodoo realized that, despite the Purolite team’s expertise in a number of areas, there were no potable and groundwater treatment specialists—so he became one.
“I trained myself, and a lot of the work that I did from then to now concentrates on getting the company to the point where we have a very good portion of the market right now in potable and groundwater because of that concentrated effort that we made,” Boodoo said.
In this effort, he noted that when working with contaminants, lab tests often take a long time to produce results.
“I challenged myself to do something that we hadn’t done before in the industry, which is to predict operating capacity for the residents using software rather than running the test in the lab, which would take several weeks,” Boodoo said.
Without any programming skills, Boodoo bought a book and taught himself how to develop the software he needed. The company now does all of its bids in this type of program, which predicts capacity and guarantees a system will meet performance targets.
Boodoo earned his MBA from Colorado State University in 2001, and got to work “looking around for projects that they could use [his] new minted skills” on. His next project was to develop return-on-investment calculators for the sales team.
“We’re able to weigh the economic value of one resin option versus another,” Boodoo said. “That actually is now being used by all of our sales force globally and getting to the customer in a much faster way. My job as I define it is problem solving in the water treatment area.”
One project Boodoo is particularly proud of is his work on a system for the city of McCook, Neb. The city faced $45 million in fines from the U.S. EPA for elevated contaminant levels. Using the software he developed, Boodoo was able to run a simulation and design the process for removal of nitrate, uranium, arsenic, total organic carbon and hardness.
“The consultant accepted the design and ran a very short two-week pilot to confirm my process,” he said. “It was successful and the plant quickly installed the [system] to avoid the large fines that would have crippled this small city financially.”
Boodoo’s recent work focuses on per- and polyfluoralkyl substance (PFAS) removal. He said at first, granular activated carbon seemed to be the natural choice for removal.
“But one day I was sitting at my desk and looked at the molecule and I said, ‘Wow, this thing is actually ideal to be removed by ion exchange resin,’” Boodoo said. “So we did some work through Temple University where we funded some of the research they are doing through the WET Center there, and as a result of that, we were able to come up with some very PFAS-selective resins.”
As the holder of four patents, Boodoo takes his problem-solving role seriously, continually looking for solutions to industry needs. He works with the National Science Foundation on test protocols, is a member of the Interstate Regulatory Council where he is helping write a manual on PFAS removal, and is a member of the Water and Environment Technology Center.
Influences & Influencing
Throughout his life, Boodoo has had many mentors who helped shape his path, from the woman who helped fund his education, to bosses—past and present.
“What I’ve found over the years is that the way you get to where you are right now is really a function of what happens in each of those steps along the way,” Boodoo said. “You have to make critical decisions in your life to go from one phase to the other, and I’ve always found that there was somebody in my life at that point, maybe sometimes even a stranger, who shows up.”
At Purolite, Boodoo works with the applications group and acts as an adviser to the sales staff.
“The way I see it, my job is to mentor these guys to become better than myself, to eventually take over my position and do several times better than I could ever do,” he said. “I focus a lot on teaching these guys on a daily basis, which means every communication that we have, the idea is not just to give the solution but to show how to derive the solution. Instead of just giving the salespeople fish, we should teach them how to fish.”
The water industry has changed a lot since Boodoo joined it more than 45 years ago, particularly on the consumer side. Because of the internet and other easily accessible sources of information, customers are more educated about water issues and have an increased interest in their health. He said consumers are going to continue to drive the business as they advocate for clean water. Boodoo’s sales background helps in this area, as well.
“Your ability to relate to the customer, to empathize with their situation is important if you’re going to make any success in the job,” Boodoo said.
Part of Boodoo’s passion for his job comes from the colleagues he works with every day.
“If I didn’t have a close-knit family in the company, I don’t think I would have stayed with the company as long as I did,” Boodoo said. “In fact, when I came to the company, I didn’t expect to stay more than 10 years, but we have a closely knit community in the sales group in particular and we all feed off each other and we look after each other.”
Hobbies are few and far between for Boodoo, who said he works whenever he is awake. He communicates with Purolite employees around the world, so he can often be found working from his home office at night. However, he said he knows relieving stress is important and therefore allows himself a few ways to unwind.
“Whenever I stop work at night, I look at Netflix for like an hour before I go to bed,” he said. “I’m a binge watcher. I play Sudoku on my phone when I’m in the airport and I have a couple minutes, or Scrabble on my phone.”
The advice Boodoo has for young professionals in the industry is a simple summary of his own career.
“Find a job that you love and don’t stop doing it,” he said.
It is clear that he follows his own advice; Boodoo loves what he does, and said he “intends to work until they push [him] out the door and change the locks.” Until that day comes, it is likely the industry will continue to see more of his solutions.
WQP asked readers to nominate their peers for consideration as the 2019 Industry Icon. We received so many worthy contenders, we wanted to acknowledge some other notable nominees.
Founder & CEO
Years in the industry: 20
Professional certifications: Certified Water Specialist
Why water?: Harrison chose the water industry to help make a difference in people’s lives by giving them sustainable water treatment options. Her mission is “helping people see and use water differently” and her vision is “helping to create a safe and healthy water future, at a grassroots level.”
Biggest influences: Personally, Harrison’s grandmother empowered her to “do anything in this world [she] wanted to.” Professionally, Mike Mecca of Performance Water “has been an unwavering source of inspiration, information, direction and support, on the easy water days and the tough ones, too.”
Memorable project: Harrison’s first major water project
was at the LEED Platinum residential community of Victoria Garden Mews in Santa Barbara, Calif. She also created a water rebate program to replace a water softener ban for the city of Solvang, Calif.
Out of office: In her free time, Harrison enjoys horseback riding, ballet and modern dance, writing and hiking.
Words of advice: “Follow your heart not your bank book, and never compromise your values.”
Chief Operations Officer
Years in the water industry: 24
Professional certifications: Professional engineer
Past life: Hughes’ first job out of college was with WaterGroup in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Prior to college, he worked in construction.
Professional accomplishments: Hughes found leading the Regina WaterGroup manufacturing operations with more than 100 employees, as well as the Northbrook, Ill., Culligan and Everpure operations with more than 500 employees to be rewarding experiences.
Memorable project: “In January 2008 I came home and told my wife I was resigning from Culligan/WaterGroup and we were going to start our own company. We took a two-week vacation and then headed off to China. We traveled around to find companies we could work with to produce high-quality water treatment products that we could import back into North America. I met several companies along the way, but when I met Canature Shanghai I immediately knew it was special. I introduced Helen Yang and Jianguo Qu from Canature to my business partners Jon Sandomirsky and Don Fettes. Things moved quickly and by the end of the year we were exclusive distribution partners for North America. My family and I stayed and lived in Shanghai at the factory and we launched sales in late 2009.”
Out of office: Hughes enjoys golfing, fishing, hiking, bike riding and traveling.
Words of advice: “I have stuck with this industry and it has really rewarded me. My advice is life is too short to do something you don’t enjoy. Find something you’re passionate about and get really good at it. Never underestimate your value.”
Director of Marketing
Years in the water industry: 21
Why water?: “I was finishing my MBA and I was looking for experience in the business world. The largest manufacturer in my county seemed to be a logical place to gain that experience. I knew that the water industry had a strong future, considering that it will always be a basic need. What started as an internship has led to a very rewarding career.”
- Successfully lobbied Congressional leaders in Washington, D.C., for their support of The Water Supply Cost Saving Act, which was enacted into law in 2016
- President of the Sump and Sewage Pump Manufacturers Assn., 2010-2012
- Helped launch several new products and dealer programs to the water technology market
- Expanded Xylem’s education and training departments to offer new learning options, including an online training program focused on the latest advancements in commercial, residential and agriculture water technology applications
A memorable project: In July 2018, Xylem partnered with the Water Well Trust to provide a new water system to a North Carolina neighborhood. The original system was in disrepair, threatening their water supply. “Together we successfully removed the old system and installed the new system. Fighting for clean and safe water is a passion of mine; being able to help this community was very fulfilling both on a personal and professional level.”
Surprising fact: “I’ve been told I make some ‘pretty darn amazing’ chocolate chip cookies! Their words, not mine.”
Lessons learned: “The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is to do what you say and don’t overpromise what you can’t deliver. I grew up in the water industry and have learned many hard lessons. It is not easy to be a woman in a very male-centric industry. I have earned respect by working hard, understanding customer’s needs and delivering on what I say I am going to do. I have learned that it is way better to delight a customer or coworker with meeting a deadline early rather than disappointing them by overpromising.”
Years in the water industry: 15
Why water?: “The water industry is a growing market, which impacts the lives of people. It brings me joy that my company has a part in ensuring that water is safe for use in different applications. The water industry also offers opportunities for innovative solutions, such as green technologies and data-driven solutions.”
- Winner of AquaTech Innovation Award
- Winner of WssTP Water Innovation Award 2014
- Winner of Shell LiveWIRE Award
- Winner of Global TAG Excellence Award
Greatest influence: Robert Herjavec is Yousef’s professional influence. “His family emigrated to Canada from former Yugoslavia and he had to work his way up from the bottom to where he is today, a successful entrepreneur.” Personally, Yousef names his father as his greatest influence. “He was a successful entrepreneur who also had to work hard every day to become prosperous. He passed when I was 2 and I have been carrying his vision since as early as I can remember.”
Memorable project: “The most memorable project for, and for the entire company, was our first MPC-Buoy project with American Water. They believed in our technology to control algal blooms and were the first water utility to use our solution in a raw water reservoir. In their own research they concluded that our solution effectively controls algal blooms and allows reduction in the usage of harmful chemicals. American Water named us their first innovation partner.”
Surprising fact: Yousef was a refugee in Netherlands for 10 years, moving there at age 13 with his mother and siblings. “We lived in a refugee camp for years and every day we feared being sent back to Syria. During this time of uncertainty, my mother pushed me to follow courses and eventually after receiving the Dutch residency, I graduated from the University of Leiden.”
Lessons learned: “Be yourself. Be authentic.”
Words of advice: “Laser focus on added value. Really understand the customers’ needs and offer them a complete solution.”
To submit a nomination for next year’s Industry Icon, visit www.wqpmag.com/ industry-icons-nomination-form.