A Billion Reasons To Invest In Water
Some people fall into jobs or careers, but when you’re one of the world’s richest men, you have plenty of options. Ronald Lauder, the billionaire businessman and son of cosmetics icon Estée Lauder, has decided on water and wastewater treatment as his life’s next venture. Why water, with so many options at his disposal? I asked Lauder that question when I met him recently at WEFTEC, and his answer was somewhat surprising.
Lauder told me he wants his company, RWL Water Group, and the work that it does to be his legacy. This from a man who once served as the U.S. Ambassador to Austria under President Ronald Reagan and is currently the president of the World Jewish Congress, as well as a major philanthropist and art collector. And yet, for all his successes and contributions, he wants to be remembered for his work in the water industry.
That’s because Lauder believes water scarcity to be the most important global water issue of our time, pointing out that 97% of the world’s water in undrinkable, and 2% of that is locked in the Arctic and Antarctic. He saw the perils of water shortages up close and personal in Israel, but he also witnessed the turnaround. Today, Israel is a world leader in both desalination and sustainability, moving toward a water surplus while reusing 75% of its wastewater.
As water use continues to outpace population growth, Lauder sees water as the foremost essential commodity of the 21st century, akin to oil in the last century. Considering this great need, his vision to increase the supply of clean water is at once noble and a sound business investment. He identified particular potential in the middle market, explaining that there is a dearth of companies operating in that space. The big companies lay claim to the big projects, and the little companies lack the necessary financing power, according to Lauder; thus huge market opportunity exists for medium-sized projects. In fact, he told me RWL should be a $500 million/year business within five years.
To get there, Lauder has acquired three companies — AEROMIX, Nirosoft, and Eurotec — all in roughly two years’ time. AEROMIX, out of Minneapolis, specializes in aeration equipment, drinking water treatment, and packaged wastewater treatment plants. Israel’s Nirosoft, meanwhile, offers desalination, mobile purification, and industrial wastewater solutions. Lastly, the Italian company Eurotec came into the fold with waste-to-energy solutions for both industry and municipalities. Together, they have accounted for more than 3,000 projects in 70 countries.
Besides the middle market focus, I asked Lauder what separates his company from the pack. He submitted to me that RWL’s synergies and global capabilities allow for greater deliverability, service, and efficiency. To illustrate his point, Lauder noted that Nirosoft completed a desalination plant in Cyprus within five months — whereas a typical desalination plant, he said, takes three to five years.
As for what separates Lauder from his peers, there’s the famous family and the billions of dollars, but there’s also a history of accomplishment and leadership. Lauder is no shrinking violet, and he will likely be a strong voice in the water industry for years to come. He is, after all, carving out a legacy.