Insituform of North America Inc. (#89) knows exactly what it wants from its board of directors. The company, which repairs sewers without tearing up streets, isn't interested in the usual ragtag collection of pushy venture capitalists, nervous bankers, and loyal friends. That's why it pursued and elected Alfred DelBello last summer.
Alfred who? Now president of Signal Environmental Systems Inc., in Hampton, N.H., DelBello just happens to have been lieutenant governor of New York, perhaps the capital of leaky sewers. Can DelBello get some business just by picking up the phone? "He's a brilliant salesman," notes vice-chairman Robert Leopold. So too William Ruckelshaus. The former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency is another recent addition to the board. No doubt it's a coincidence that the company has applied for EPA approval to use its technique on water pipes.
These moves, long a practice of much bigger companies, may help Insituform grab much more of the sewer-repair market. The underground economy is bubbling. In the next five years, midsize and large cities will spend about $90 billion fixing water and sewer pipes, according to a Coopers & Lybrand survey. And it's a tough market to crack, especially with new technology. "In municipalities, there are lots of entrenched relationships," says Leopold. "Civil bureaucrats don't have any incentive to stick their necks out." Another company that earlier tried to market the same technology went bankrupt twice, and Insituform was drained of over $800,000 during its first two years.
Insituform's process, licensed from abroad, enables workers to repair sewers from the inside. A specially coated flexible tube, which is inserted through manholes, hardens to create a pipe within a pipe.Insituform's 13 sublicensees pay an 8% royalty fee. "Since you don't dig, you don't have the barricades, the traffic problems, and all the disruption," says Bennie Benjamin, deputy director of Detroit's Water & Sewage Department. Adds DelBello: "For a municipality, this is a godsend."