Business flows for employee-owned firm

////Business flows for employee-owned firm

Business flows for employee-owned firm

Anyone who’s taken a swim in the Sheraton Waikiki’s infinity pool, or driven past the fountain at the entrance to Kahului Airport or looked up at the corner of Auahi and Kamakee streets to see Anaha’s glass-bottomed pool cantilevered over the street is familiar with Pacific Aquascapes’ work.

The locally owned company is one of Hawaii’s largest pool and water feature designers and builders.

The company was founded in 1980 by John Groark, who was known for his rock work and water features and worked with developer Chris Hemmeter on his hotel projects on the Neighbor Islands. In 1997, Frank Fontana, who had been with Hawaiian Dredging & Construction Co. for 18 years, met Groark while working on a project at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali, and he and Donald Morrison joined that was then John Groark & Associates. After that, the business branched into taking on large commercial pool projects at hotels, time shares and condominiums, in addition to the fountains and other water features Groark was known for.

Fontana, Morrison, who brought the financial expertise, and designer Wendell Lee led an employee purchase of the company in 2003 from Groark, who later died in 2008.

The company is now a 100 percent employee-owned subchapter S corporation under an employee-owned stock option plan, or ESOP, with 95 employees, 55 of whom are members of the Hawaii Laborers’ Union.

The move has worked well for the company — 36 employees have been with the company an average of 16.5 years and revenues have grown fourfold, despite virtually no advertising.

Today, 95 percent of the business is commercial work that can be seen at the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina; Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa; the Sheraton Waikiki; Hokuala, a Timbers Resort, on Kauai; the Sheraton Kauai Resort in Poipu, Kula Villas at Makena Golf & Beach Club on Maui and the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay.

The Howard Hughes Corp. also hired the company to design the water feature outside the IBM Building as well as the pools at Waiea and Anaha, including the pool that appears suspended above Auahi Street. The company teamed with Hammerhead International, which makes viewing panels and enclosures for zoos and aquariums, to create the L-shaped acrylic piece of the pool suspended above the sidewalk