There’s a hat in Geoff Chutter’s office. It’s there on the hutch, just to the left of his desk, sitting in a haphazard muddle of family photos, industry awards, and business mementos. It’s plain and black, and distinctly uncool—the kind your coach passed out to the team on the first day of Little League. On the crown, printed loud and proud in thick, 1977-style white type: I (heart symbol) water parks.
As mission statements go, it’s not as detailed or as targeted as a $400-an-hour brand consultant would write. But in the case of Chutter’s Richmond-based company WhiteWater West, the hat is a fair articulation of its business model—and a pretty good explanation for its ongoing success.
“I love the company,” Chutter admits. He pauses after he says it, a warm smile growing on his face. “It’s my heart and soul. Anybody around here, if you said: give me the top three attributes of Geoff—I can guarantee you the top one would be passion.”
Chutter has turned that passion into profit. After he built a waterpark in Penticton in 1980, people began to request slides and engineering; now, WhiteWater is a leading designer and builder of waterslides, wave pools, and aquatic parks. Throughout the years, this simple idea of loving what you do—a passion for work, for play, for the very idea of fun—has remained at the heart of what WhiteWater is all about.
“To me, [this business] brings three incredible aspects together,” Chutter muses. “There’s the sun—everybody likes the sun. And it’s got water, you know, going to the beach, everybody loves water. But there’s a huge family aspect as well.” And here, Chutter taps his finger lightly on the table, making his final point with emphasis. “The typical family will have two, three kids, and they’re obviously different ages. What can you do as a family that everybody can enjoy? At a properly-designed waterpark, you’ve got something for all ages. If we do our job right, that’s what we achieve.”
Not that it’s all fun and games. Turns out designing and building waterparks is big business, and getting bigger. WhiteWater is on track to do about 180 projects in 2017, selling north of $200 million of waterpark equipment—slides, surfing machines, log flume rides, and so on—along with associated design, supervision, and engineering. The company has over 550 people on its payroll, over 500 of them in B.C., along with offices in Shanghai, Barcelona, and Dubai.
Through a combination of savvy foresight, bold opportunism, and good old-fashioned luck, Chutter has steered WhiteWater through a range of acquisitions including a wave-generating company and a surfing machine company. The result: a geographically-diversified, vertically-integrated supplier that sells “cradle to grave” recreational waterpark products and services around the world. Which has become a big part of WhiteWater’s pitch to clients: sure, you could buy your fibreglass slides from one firm, your engineering design from another, and your wave pool from someone else—but why?
Of course, cultivating international business requires more than a phone and an internet connection—it takes a passport and a good deal of face time. Little wonder why you can often find Chutter at the airport, catching a plane from one corner of the world to another, typically racking up more than 100,000 miles in the sky every year. “It’s highly overrated,” Chutter says of business travel, a wry smile crossing his face. At the same time, he recognizes that as novel as his company sounds, at its heart, WhiteWater remains a traditional, service-oriented business—one that requires a considerable investment in relationships.
Fortunately for WhiteWater, such work comes easily to Chutter. Even after all these years, the CEO still finds the time to go and meet clients personally, and to check out his company’s wares by riding the slides. “You’ve got to,” he says. “You’ve got to feel the sensations yourself.”
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