If you want to see a CEO squirm, ask Gregg Sengstack to talk about Gregg Sengstack.
The new head of Franklin Electric Co. Inc. would much rather talk about motors, pumps or pretty much anything except himself.
He’s very, very humble. Not a person who wants to hog the stage, said Todd Stephenson, who serves with Sengstack on the Canterbury School’s board of trustees.
That description resonates with Dianne Sengstack, who said her husband is the type of guy that does all the work and doesn’t care who gets the credit.
Luckily for Sengstack, there’s plenty to be done at the office.
The 55-year-old stepped into Franklin’s CEO role this month when Scott Trumbull retired from the job. Trumbull will continue to chair the company’s board.
Franklin Electric designs and makes submersible motors and pumping systems used to move water and fuel. Customers include homeowners, cities and companies in commercial, agricultural and other industries worldwide.
The orderly leadership transition places Sengstack at the helm of a manufacturer closing in on $1 billion in annual sales.
Sengstack, a certified public accountant, joined the company in 1988 as assistant treasurer and worked his way up to senior vice president and chief financial officer in 2001, on his way to being named president and chief operating officer in 2011.
Mike Middleton was working in Franklin’s sales department when Sengstack joined the company.
He’s just a very likable individual, Middleton said of his former co-worker. He just wanted to make sure the customer was taken care of. It’s all about accomplishing the goal and supporting the team.
Middleton now works for Bluffton Motor Works, the division Franklin spun off into a stand-alone operation in 2006.
As part of Franklin’s leadership team, Sengstack has been one of about 10 people who have guided the company in recent years.
We have a very collaborative environment, he said. We develop and agree on the strategy and direction of the company.
During Trumbull’s tenure, Franklin made a huge transition.
In 2003, Franklin was a motor company that sold 2,000 different products. A decade later, the manufacturer had transformed itself into a pumping systems company with 40,000 products.
The strategy has paid off – and then some. Sales to customers in developing regions have soared to $361 million a year in 2013 from $65 million a year in 2004.
Over the past 10 years, Franklin’s stock has more than doubled in price, hovering near $40 last week. The company has reported growth for 18 consecutive quarters in adjusted earnings per share and has increased annual dividend payments for 22 years.
Franklin’s executives have been rewarded accordingly. As CEO, Sengstack now earns a base salary of $650,000 and has the opportunity to earn an additional $1.3 million in annual bonuses and stock options.
The company’s sales growth has come from developing new products, refining existing products and expanding the company’s geographical reach. Opportunities exist in China, India, Indonesia and numerous other countries.
As the company’s 150 engineers strive to increase value for customers, they redesign the motors and pumps for energy-efficiency.
Sengstack, an experienced pilot, has no plans to ease up on the throttle.
In today’s environment, one cannot just tread water. We will continue to grow. We will continue to innovate, he said. I do see taking Franklin to the next level.
He’s not kidding
Sengstack’s dedication to Franklin was evident early in his relationship with Dianne, whom he met during a sailing race in Connecticut.
She recalled that when he proposed to her, Sengstack said they’d need to have the wedding during the company’s two-week factory shutdown in August.
My mother said, Are you kidding me?’ Dianne said, laughing. But it all worked out.
The couple, who set the date for the bride’s 26th birthday, have been married 25 years.
He was a whole lot smarter than anybody else I’d ever dated, she said. He was so much fun. I was like, wow.
Sengstack, who described Dianne as his best friend, is equally devoted to their three children. Over the years, he’s attended more than a few Canterbury School sports competitions immediately after returning from a work trip to India, China or other far-flung destinations.
He would be completely jetlagged, but he wanted to show support, Dianne said. If he can make it, he’s there.
Travel is an important component for executives at Franklin. About 66 percent of the company’s workforce is outside the United States.
Sengstack also has a strong commitment to the company and its 4,400 workers. His formal demeanor melted away during a recent interview when he talked about the employees and their families.
I’m very proud to be the leader of Franklin, very honored, he said. This is a terrific group of people.
Dianne, his wife, has seen that devotion.
Oh my God, he loves his people, she said. I’m like, Pretend I’m an employee, Gregg.’ He’s a very fair and loyal boss.
Giving time, talent
Sengstack has also demonstrated loyalty to the community and his children’s school, Canterbury, where he serves on the board of trustees.
Stephenson, CEO of United Way of Allen County, has served on Canterbury’s board with Sengstack for several years. Stephenson even followed Sengstack into the chairman’s chair.
As a board chairman, Sengstack brought a calming presence as he encouraged everyone to share ideas, Stephenson said. Sengstack also has vision for what’s required to move an organization toward both short-term and long-term goals, he said.
As an organization, Franklin Electric has been a significant supporter of United Way. The manufacturer increased both its corporate and employee giving last year, Stephenson said.
Joan Brown, development director for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, also praised the company and its CEO.
He’s one of those great leaders who understands the importance of a successful company like Franklin Electric to give back to the community, she said.
The company, a long-term supporter, invites an ensemble from the Philharmonic to play for employees as part of a cultural event and annual check presentation ceremony.
He’s a great model for how a company can include employees in their philanthropic giving, Brown said.
Dianne Sengstack thinks her husband is a great role model, period. She appreciates that when he’s with the family, they have his full attention. And she accepts that when he’s at the office, his focus is there.
That isn’t likely to change anytime soon. The thought of retirement isn’t even a blip on Sengstack’s radar. Franklin doesn’t impose a mandatory retirement age, so the CEO figures he’s got at least a good 10 more years in him.
We have a lot to do, a lot in front of us, he said. It’s an exciting time to be here.