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Making his company soar from the ground up

Speed and altitude are two themes in the life of Doug Mossbrook. They pervade his work, designing environmental heating and cooling systems in the ground, and his free time, hang gliding and flying sailplanes in the air.
It is just the way his mind works, says Mossbrook, 48. At his company, Eagle Mountain Inc. in Bristol, Ontario County, the boss is known as a fast thinker who likes to move equally fast.
Around him, he likes people with a long-range outlook, who can envision new technologies and applications beyond the horizon.
Mossbrook says he wakes up at 4 in the morning doing exactly that. He cannot shut down the flow of new ideas, and to carry them out he needs a staff big enough to do it, not to mention a space large enough.
That was one of several reasons for the move Eagle Mountain made this year from across the road to a new, $2 million campus six times larger than the old building.
Using the company’s geothermal systems, which extract heat energy from the ground, Eagle Mountain vastly reduced energy consumption for the 20,000-square-foot building.
Combining that technology with efficient insulation-a foam-like material consisting of ground-up denim jeans-the headquarters uses the same amount of energy as a typical 3,500-square-foot house.
Half of Mossbrook’s 20 employees are at the new building. The other 10 are in the old building across the road, operating as Geo Corp.
Eagle Mountain produces the geothermal systems, while Geo Corp. installs them. To keep up with growth on both sides of the business, which now is focused on national distributorship contracts, Mossbrook plans to add 30 employees to Eagle Mountain over the next three years.
Ontario County’s Office of Economic Development awarded Eagle Mountain a five-year, $100,000 loan this year from the county-administered, federally funded revolving loan fund.
To build the new headquarters, the Ontario County Industrial Development Agency also offered its support in the form of a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement. Under the incentive package, Eagle Mountain was able to pay no sales tax on the construction materials or equipment; it also will pay no property tax for the next five years and reduced property taxes for the following four years.
Jason Murphy, director of sales at Eagle Mountain, says Mossbrook’s long-range vision gives him an uncanny ability to overlook obstacles-and be successful for it.
“He doesn’t even see them. That’s an amazing quality of any leader in a company, because he looks at what we can do and how well we can do it; he doesn’t worry about why we can’t do it,” Murphy says.
“Maybe that is the single key to his success, because he has his imagination working on all of these thoughts. He really has the power to manifest those thoughts and those visions.”
When Mossbrook happens to meet people who can keep up with his mental rate of motion, he hires them. Mossbrook, for whom math and sciences are strengths, knows how unusual those people are to find.
“I really struggle when people deliver information at their speed instead of mine,” he says.
Mossbrook, originally from Ontario in Wayne County, decided to forgo college partly for that reason. Lessons were too slow, and he absorbs information too fast. So does his wife-a former teacher-which is why he spent years trying to recruit her.
As chief financial officer, Kim Mossbrook provides the “soft skills” Mossbrook admittedly lacks and needs more than ever since the company moved into its new digs two months ago.
Prior to the move, the firm had been expanding from producing its own sustainable systems to installing them, then to branding them. Now the company is selling to other installers while adding education to the mix by holding courses in sustainable building and design.

New headquarters

Education was one main reason why Eagle Mountain’s new headquarters had to be an example of the research in sustainability that Mossbrook has undertaken. It incorporates newly available green technology.
But another main reason for the new campus was to create a work environment that exists nowhere else in the Rochester area, complete with a garden rooftop facing the panorama of untouched nature in the Bristol Hills.
Mossbrook’s vision is for outside work stations, under the shade of patio umbrellas and planted rooftop Colorado blue spruces, surrounded by lush lawns and overlooking beautiful vistas.
“Why can’t people enjoy life while they work?” Mossbrook asks during a tour of the new building.
Mossbrook wants employees and visitors to experience the outdoors when they are inside too. He designed ceilings with domes of glass and walls with picture windows to flood the interior with daylight wherever possible.
Mossbrook wanted to maximize the use of natural light and rainwater. Rain collected from the roof and other parts of the building flows through the walls to two large filtering systems that remove any debris. The self-cleaning filters are stainless steel and vertical, so the water goes into vortices, which direct clean water into a storage tank and the rest back outside.
“We collect a huge amount of water, way more than we use. For now we only use it in our toilets and in the manufacturing area for washing trucks and equipment,” Mossbrook says.
As useful as it is, the building also is meant to be a showcase of sustainable practices and their potential. Trade group events, industry seminars and local educational programs are planned for the classrooms and reception hall Mossbrook included in the building.
“I sit on the board of Finger Lakes Community College, so we’re going to run some sustainability programs here,” he says. “We’re also working with RIT and some of their engineering programs.”

At home

Mossbrook got to see the advantages of combining sustainable technologies while he was building his home, situated on the hill across from Eagle Mountain. It was a labor of love that, in the end, became a valuable education for designing the new headquarters.
His wife did not see things exactly the same way-at least not initially. While pregnant with one of their four sons, she was helping to pour concrete for the foundation.
“We spent two and half years on the construction of our home, and then he started this project,” she says, laughing. “So when he said he wanted to do this, I said, ‘I don’t want to hear it. Just tell me what it’s going to cost.'”
Doug Mossbrook’s enthusiasm for new technologies overwhelmed him, though. And now Kim says she loves their house.
“I used to build custom homes for years,” Doug Mossbrook says. “I had parallel companies doing that. I took all the things I liked about doing customers’ houses, and I put them in my house.”
The house includes an 18-foot-high indoor waterfall, formed with 30-inch boulders.
Mossbrook owns more than 100 acres in Bristol, where he started amassing land when the couple moved there in the late 1980s.
“Building out there goes against the grain,” Mossbrook says. People do not expect to see a company headquarters the size of Eagle Mountain’s in the middle of a meadow.
But going against the grain is something Mossbrook has done since he graduated from high school. He was the only one of five children not to go to college.
Once destined for veterinary school, Mossbrook backed out a week before leaving, to pursue his dream of opening his own business. His father stopped talking to him for nine months.
That was in 1977 and launched Mossbrook on a wave of entrepreneurism that by the 1990s got to be overwhelming. By that time, he and Kim decided to get out of the business of home construction to concentrate full time on geothermal technology-a field where his passion had been growing.
Sustainable energy had always been an interest, and he had already introduced it in his home construction business.
“I really wanted to do things that would allow me to experiment,” Mossbrook says. “One of the first jobs I did was for a physician’s assistant who wanted to put an addition on the back of his house. I talked to him about using passive and active solar, and he said, ‘OK.'”
Mossbrook’s passion for geothermal technology probably was first ignited by Popular Mechanics. It was from the back of one of its issues that Mossbrook ordered his first geothermal system in 1982 from a couple of guys in Arkansas.
“It looked like something they made out of their garage-which they did,” he says.
Early in his home construction business, Mossbrook learned that he needed to sell products to have a wide enough profit margin.
“That was an early lesson. The real lesson came many years later in 1985,” he says.
“Kim and I were in Bern, Switzerland, walking on a street where I noticed a guy working on his house in the winter. He had blown up a bubble to seal the house up so he could work on it in winter. It was an amazing idea, so I went in and talked to him.”
The man was installing a radiant heat system in his floor. When Mossbrook returned to the United States, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.
Eventually, Mossbrook would educate himself on geothermal technology and how to install it through the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association at Oklahoma State University.
Murphy, the director of sales, says the concept of geothermal heat pump technology can be understood by looking at the coils behind a refrigerator. Those coils are similar to what is buried in the ground in geothermal technology, he says.
“In the summertime, during the cooling months, the inside of your house is like the inside of a refrigerator; the ground is like the back of the refrigerator, which like the one in your kitchen is usually warm,” Murphy explains.
“In the wintertime, it’s just the reverse. The inside of your house is like the back of the refrigerator, and you’re putting all of that cold air outside.”

Evolving business

Eagle Mountain started installing the home systems in 1989, later becoming a sales distributor. By 2001, the company was distributing its own alternative energy products nationwide.
For 2007 and 2008, revenue growth was limited by the space Eagle Mountain had for employees and inventory. With the move this year, Mossbrook expects some small revenue growth in 2009.
“I predict our real growth will occur over the next two to four years and should be in the 50 percent to 60 percent per year range. We were experiencing that kind of growth until we ran out of space,” he says.
With the added space now, Mossbrook hopes to realize more of his ideas for new sustainable products and systems.
Friend and fellow engineer Paul Yarnall, owner of Technical Resolution in Canandaigua, is working for the firm to develop systems that automate the different home technologies Eagle Mountain has developed.
“I think they want to get more into distribution and working with other people in the business and a little less dealing with individuals. They both have their benefits but their related headaches too,” Yarnall said.
Yarnall has known Mossbrook for more than 20 years. They met because they share a passion for hang gliding. Perhaps five years ago, they and a third man bought a self-launching sailplane that they fly out of the airport in Canandaigua.
“It’s a 15-meter sailplane that looks pretty much like any modern sailplane except it has a motor that folds away, so it can take off like an airplane, gain altitude and fold the motor away, and then soar like a sailplane,” Yarnall says.
Flying is second nature to Mossbrook, but then again so are mountain biking, lacrosse coaching, downhill skiing and motorcycle racing. He has so many interests that sometimes he has to avoid them to focus on his ideas.
With the new building now complete and their children at school, he and Kim are able to focus more on business, which faces new challenges under the weight of a sagging economy.
“The new building is a big place. He’s got some room to grow into it. I hope the combination of the economy and all of those issues don’t make for bad timing in what he’s trying to do, since now he has some real overhead,” Yarnall says. “But you have to spend money to make money.”
Mossbrook agrees. Doing business, especially right now, is a lot like flying, he says: “You have to make calculated risks constantly.”
rbj@rbj.net / 585-546-8303

Doug Mossbrook
Title: President and owner, Eagle Mountain Inc. and Geo Corp.
Age: 48
Residence: Bristol, Ontario County
Family: Wife Kim; sons Dakota, 17; Colin, 14; Skye, 9; and Talon, 6
Interests: Hang gliding, motorcycle racing, sailplane flying, snow skiing
Quote: “I’ve been in business going on 32 years now. There is no way you can stay motivated that long unless you continually have a new passion.”

03/27/2009 (C) Rochester Business Journal

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