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For more than a century, Leonard Valve Co. has supplied stakeholders in the plumbing industry with mixing valve technology for numerous commercial applications. Since the invention of thermostatic mixing valves by its founder, Frederick C. Leonard, the Cranston, R.I.-based manufacturer continues to embrace and incorporate technology into its valves and other water application products.
Leonard Valve recently came into new ownership last March — private investment firm Bessemer Investors. David Brakenwagen took over as Leonard Valve’s new CEO last December. PHC News Editor Steve Smith recently talked with Brakenwagen to discuss the company’s path forward.
PHC News: Let’s start with some basics: Tell us briefly about your work experience and the path you took to become the CEO of Leonard?
David Brakenwagen: My path started with various electrical engineering roles at several large industrial companies. As my career evolved, I pivoted into senior leadership roles within the operational and sales/marketing functions. From these functional roles, my career expanded into leading business units within large and small companies.
Most of my work experience has been in industrial and medical-type companies. I recently held the CEO role at a life science, medical device engineering and manufacturing services company. I am excited to now be the CEO of Leonard Valve.
PHC News: What was it about leading Leonard that interested you the most?
Brakenwagen: Leonard possesses a tremendous brand that associates with the safety and well-being of everyone. The company introduced water temperature control systems decades ago and continues to be the innovator in this space. Being an innovation and technology leader that supports the health and safety of individuals is most interesting to me.
PHC News: I know you only took the lead of Leonard in December, but can you recap for us how the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way business is being conducted. How did the organization respond to help its channel partners?
Brakenwagen: Certainly. COVID-19 has changed many elements in how we conduct business and how we live our personal lives. We have modified various processes and upgraded our toolsets as required to ensure that all business practices allow for increased safety and compliance to the recommended guidelines.
We have also seen a shift in mixing valve requirements with the use of hands-free technologies — which we, in turn, have increased our capacity output to satisfy the distribution needs. For our channel partners, we continue to work closely with them to streamline product flow and position inventory during these times of supply-chain imbalance and volatility.
PHC News: People who have been in this industry a long time certainly know the Wilcox family very well. What can you tell us about the investment philosophy of Leonard’s current ownership under Bessemer Investors?
Brakenwagen: We intend to preserve the many great attributes of Leonard Valve and the rich tradition of water temperature controllers and product quality that our brand has possessed for more than a century. While preserving these elements, we also recognize that business needs and solutions continue to drive companies like Leonard to enhance our value proposition.
Bessemer’s goal is to continue to build the company long-term and invest where appropriate.
PHC News: What do you think are the biggest strengths of and opportunities for the company?
Brakenwagen: The commercial rigor and reliability of our products are clearly a major strength of Leonard Valve. We invented the thermostatic mixing valve decades ago and there are opportunities to continue innovation within the larger water temperature control ecosystem.
There are opportunities for improved connectivity where enhanced functionality and feature sets will allow for increased data monitoring collection and higher levels of predictive maintenance. Opportunities exist to make the jobs of installers, specifiers and facility management easier, and that is where the biggest opportunities are to focus on.
PHC News: I imagine there are plenty of things being done right at a company that’s been in business as long as Leonard has. Still, there must be some new objectives you have in mind. What can you tell us about some new strategic goals or new initiatives you have for the company?
Brakenwagen: Leonard continuously strives to be the most environmentally safe solution for hot water control. For the respective roles of contractors, specifying engineers and wholesale distributors, we will continue to be easy to do business with while providing simple to install (and maintain) products, new product development for various applications and product availability across all geographies.
PHC News: What’s your average day like?
Brakenwagen: In my role, I am fortunate to work with great people and across all organization functions. My average day is spent working with internal and external stakeholders such as customers, distributors/wholesalers, our outside sales representative team, supply partners and various internal Leonard functions.
PHC News: What do you do when you are outside the office?
Brakenwagen: I spend my time engaging in outside activities such as biking, hiking and enjoying the great New England coastline. I also enjoy watching and participating in sports activities. You will find me most times enjoying these types of activities with family and friends.
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