Dick Heckmann made his first fortune rolling up small companies “doing almost anything related to water: treating wastewater, making filters and valves, delivering water to homes” under the name U.S. Filter Corp. The effort started with the acquisition of a “crappy little company” called American Toxxic for $1.6 million in 1990. Nine years later, he sold U.S. Filter to Vivendi SA for $6.2 billion, earning himself $200 million on the sale.
After that he focused on sporting equipment: “Mr. Heckmann was off to the races again with K2 Inc., a maker of skis and other sporting equipment, where he became chief executive in 2002. He bought dozens of companies, including Rawlings, a maker of baseball gear, and moved production of skis and metal bats to China. In 2007, Mr. Heckmann sold K2 to Jarden Corp. for about $700 million.”
The most amazing part of this story is the origin story. Heckmann was a college dropout who sold cleaning products as a door to door salesman in the 1960s. He considered himself a true “salesman at heart.” He moved on to selling life insurance before attempting his first acquisition: a tiny maker of rescue beacons for airplanes. The acquisition proved to be a disaster and the company went bankrupt in short order. He considered it a learning experience and went on to acquire Tower Scientific, a medical equipment manufacturer. He sold the company in 1977 and made $3 million the sale. He was 34 at the time.