Investor Spotlight: A Conversation with Susan Bishop, President of H2O Jet  

This month, we had the chance to talk to Susan Bishop, H2O Jet’s new president. Bishop replaces Hal Arnold, who has led the company for the past 19 years and is now transitioning into retirement. Bishop was H2O Jet’s controller for the past ten years. “I live in Thurston County and went to school here. My kids went to school here and I raised my family here,” she said. Before H2O Jet, Bishop worked for Weyerhaeuser.

Susan Bishop, President of H2O Jet. Photo by Flowstate Creatives courtesy of H2O Jet.

Thurston EDC: How long have you been in business?

SB: H2O Jet was founded in 1992. Today, H2O Jet is part of a group of companies owned by Shape Technologies. Flow, KMT, SPA and H2O Jet are a part of this bigger company. American Industrial Partners, an investment group, has held Shape since August 2013 before that H2O Jet was owned by another private investment group based out of Sweden.

Thurston EDC: What is your product, and who is your customer?

SB: Our products are higher pressure pumps up to 94K and waterjet cutting head and supplies that service the waterjet cutting industry. Our customers range from automotive to food manufacturers. Our biggest customer, BACA, sells to the stone cutting market. Before COVID, we frequently traveled to Asia and Europe. We have partner companies all over the world that use H2O Jet. A lot of our direct sales are to integrators who take our pumps and parts and integrate them with their systems.

Thurston EDC: What inspired you – or the founders – to start H2O Jet?

SB: H2O jet was started by a former Flow employee, Ted Jernigan. He was the founder of DTI, Diamond Technologies. He started H2O Jet in 1992 as an offshoot of that company. H2O Jet was sold to the Swedish Investment group in 2006. Hal Arnold joined H2O Jet as a general manager in the early days, and he did it all. When I started ten years ago, Hal was the general manager, the operations manager and the sales manager.

Thurston EDC: What inspires your work and sets you apart from the competition?

SB: Without question, we are 100% focused on our customers. Our goal is to give them the best experience we can. We don’t pretend to be the cheapest, but we believe we offer a lot of value. H2O’s niche is we are quick and innovative. We go to the customer to solve their problems and develop creative solutions for whatever their issue is. We also offer fast delivery – averaging over 98% on-time delivery. We try not to let our customers down. We provide incredible service in our parts department, and our engineers provide creativity and innovation.

Thurston EDC: What has been your most significant success to date?

SB: We’ve been very successful with our products in the automotive industry. Our parts are used in sub-assemblies in automotive industries to cut carpet and for metal cutting. We are predominant in the automotive industry. Our top customer is BACA Systems  – they make robotic and saw cutting systems for the stone cutting industry– in the last few years, they have seen astronomical growth, so their success is our success. They are based out of Michigan. We are also incredibly proud of our innovation in our industry. Most of what we do has been designed or improved by Hal. His retirement – he deserves it – will create new challenges because he has been involved in our innovation. Most of what has happened here is the result of Hal’s creativity and innovation. He got this company to where it is today. However, we have a very gifted group of engineers, lead by Mark Huntley, taking us into the future and we’re sure that we will be just as creative going forward.

Thurston EDC: How has COVID impacted H2O Jet?

SB: In early March, we were going strong because many companies were pre-buying in anticipation of supply shortages. H2O Jet was deemed an essential industry right from the beginning because we support food, medical and automotive, but April and May were hard. We had to cut back dramatically. The entire industry took a nosedive. Part of that was because of COVID’s impact on the aerospace industry. We sell to a lot of the smaller manufacturers who supply Boeing. We struggled through July and had to lay people off. And we went to shorter shifts. It was not an easy summer. We all came back to the facility in June. It took a while to see customers come back. We’ve now seen a lot of bounce back since the worst of it and are approaching 2021 with an expectation of continued growth.

Thurston EDC: Describe your typical workday?

SB: When I stepped into the job, I had a good understanding of our customers. Hal had been working with me for the last several years. We did a lot of international travel until COVID hit. I spent almost two years going back and forth to Germany supporting a sister company on the financial side and took a few trips to meet with customers in Europe. All of that was to prepare me to take on this position. Because of COVID, I cannot have a lot of in-person contact with our customers, so I reach out via email and the phone. Until I can travel again, I am spending a lot of time on our shop floor learning more about the engineering that goes into our products and learning how to build some of it myself.  This has helped develop a deeper understanding of our products and how our customers see them when they arrive.

Eventually, travel will return, and I’ll spend a lot of time checking on our customers. They deserve face-to-face meetings because that is how we innovate our products and problem solve. So often, we are not selling a pump or a part; we’re selling a solution to their problem. Our meetings help them become more productive and profitable.

Thurston EDC: Do you have a business or personal mantra or inspirational quote you’d like to share?

SB: “You will find what you seek.” If you go looking for the bad, you’ll find the bad. If you go looking for an opportunity, you’ll find an opportunity. I don’t go looking for negative. I try and create opportunities and encourage others to do the same.

Thurston EDC: Is there a common misconception about your business within Thurston County that you’d like to address here?

SB: We are an international company, but we recognize the importance of being good citizens of Thurston County. We employ under 30 people, but we contribute through taxes. We are invested in continuing to operate here. We grew up here. We love the lifestyle. I would like to see Thurston County develop more, especially in the industrial sector. We’ve had trouble employing people here at all levels. We’ve had success recruiting engineers, but we’ve had difficulty finding warehousing staff and qualified mechanics. It is tough to find even office and accounting staff because we have to compete with the State for some of these jobs. I feel that there is not enough manufacturing here to draw enough people, which becomes a catch-22. However, my family has been very happy here, and I think Thurston County is an incredible place to raise a family.